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Why I read history

History at 30,000 feet: The Big Picture

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Mar 28, 2009, 4:38pm Top

I though I'd start this by citing a post I made previously in another group, just to promote conversation:

Why read history except to learn things?

Well, "learn" is a pretty broad term -- I strongly endorse learning! -- and one can "learn" lots of different things. The proposition that studying history is for the purpose of learning lessons from the past is much more specific, not to mention unitary, and that is what I was addressing.

This strikes me as a very instrumental, purposive description of why one studies history. Don't get me wrong: It is a very good reason for studying history! It is a convincing reason, especially if the uninitiated or uninterested reader needs convincing. Or for the serious scholar who conceives of his mission that way. It's just that it only addresses one part of why I read history.

I cannot give you a comprehensive and adequate explanation of why I personally read history. Time constraints – and the limits of my self-knowledge!-- prevent this unfortunately. But I will offer a few ideas, granting that others may not share them.

I read history because part of what I like to do with my time is construct mental models of how things are and how things were. I like to imagine the past, to walk through the ages in my mind. The more I read history, the more I fill in the blanks in my understanding and in my mental image of the universe in which we live. I find this satisfying.

I read history because I like stories, especially stories well told. Good historical writing is every bit as enjoyable to me as a masterful work of fiction. There is beauty in good history.

I read history because I like to try to understand how human beings and societies have changed and how they have remained the same. How are the conditions of society similar and different? What are the motives and bases for action? Perhaps this is not really different than "learning lessons" but I'm not necessarily looking to draw conclusions relevant to my own society -- if I do so, that's fine, but it's not my primary purpose -- I'm satisfying my own curiosity and gratifying my love of learning.

Finally, related to that last, and with all due embarrassment, I read history because, yes, I do like facts and dates and concrete pieces of information. I know it's not PC. It may be the product of a dim and narrow mind. But I'm going to be big enough to admit it.

**Bows in apology to all**

Mar 28, 2009, 4:50pm Top

Hey sometimes you gotta know "when" stuff happened too ;-)

Mar 28, 2009, 5:06pm Top

I don't read a lot of history, but when I do it is to satisfy curiosity. What I learn feeds my fiction addiction, and vice versa. Stellar's recommendations have always been great, so I am here hoping for more!

Mar 28, 2009, 6:41pm Top

We never just traveled anywhere when I was a child. My mom always stopped at the rode side monuments. We always got out and read them and took pictures of us beside them then discussed that part of history as we traveled to the next one.

So history has always been part of the present for me.

Mar 28, 2009, 8:01pm Top

Oh, yes, we did that too! and so did my mother's family when she was a child.

Mar 28, 2009, 8:22pm Top

This is funny. I was just thinking about this yesterday, having recently completed reading, yet another, history book.

I was a terrible history student in school. If I got a "C" it was cause for celebration. Yet, as an adult I find myself, often, drawn towards history books.

I think it's because I can read history that I'm interested in.

I picked up The Beautiful Cigar Girl because of it's connection to Poe and the mystery of the story. Reading that book sparked an interest in the early development of the newspaper industry and led me to Peaches and Daddy and The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True... (sorry, that was the only way to get the touchstone to work)

Frankly, it's a much more entertaining way to learn.

Add to that, the fact that I can just learn about the subject without having to memorize any specific dates.

Mar 28, 2009, 8:37pm Top

I read history because part of what I like to do with my time is construct mental models of how things are and how things were. I like to imagine the past, to walk through the ages in my mind. The more I read history, the more I fill in the blanks in my understanding and in my mental image of the universe in which we live. I find this satisfying.

Beautifully said. I also study history to amend my models. In my case they are models of human nature. While tactics --both political and military-- interest me, I absolutely gravitate away from the powerful to study regular folks.

I think the past allows for a kind of clarity for those that don't drag present concerns back to those times.

Mar 28, 2009, 11:33pm Top

I never really thought much about why I read history and now you all are making me think about it. I believe that the reason why I like to look at history is to try to understand how the actions and events that happened before I was born impact the lives of me and those that I love. I want to try to understand why people did what they did and possibly think about what life would have been like if things had been different.

I also believe that in knowing what peope had to do to survive, it makes me appreciate the blessings that I have in my life.

Enough preaching!

Edited: Mar 28, 2009, 11:45pm Top

When I was younger I remember thinking that history was kinda boring and what was really important was science; why look backwards at idiots that are dead now, when we should be looking forward to things like spaceflight and colonizing the solar system! Make history on other planets, not worry about people bonking eachother over the head over random gods and quarrels here on Earth

Now I both appreciate the past AND hope the best for the future. :-D

Mar 28, 2009, 11:48pm Top

>8 cyderry:
cyderry, you capture that most important value: gratitude. Something i try to remind myself of as often as possible!

>9 Feicht:
I just hope, in your deepening involvement with the past, you never forget the human future off-Earth, Feicht! We will need people like you, who have knowledge of the deep past on Old Earth!

Mar 28, 2009, 11:50pm Top

Don't worry, I'll never forget the "good ole days" back on Earth-that-was :-D

Mar 29, 2009, 3:40am Top

First to tenth: I like history for its own sake.
For me it is like travelling in a strange country. Everybody above age 50 has seen big changes in zeitgeist in his lifetime, so imagine the “otherness” of history.
(In a review of Chris Wickham’s latest book (on the inheritance of Rome) I saw this sentence: “The test of the historian is to capture the foreignness of the past without resorting to ridicule, disapproval or dislike. The challenge is to engage the interest of the reader without compromising the disorienting sense of the strangely unfamiliar”.)
For me history adds to my sense of living, of amazement… And the beauty of it is that all I need for that is a book and a chair.
Having done (more than 15 years ago, immediately after the fall of the Berlin wall) some years of evening colleges, I consider myself as a more or less informed laywoman.
And… oh yes, we can learn from history, we must. But as we are humans I wouldn’t count to much on that.

Mar 29, 2009, 8:50am Top

#8, CyDerry

Gratitude wasn't what I went looking for, but it certainly was one of the things I found. You can't read the journals of the American pioneers, or hear the sadness in the Church Father's records without realizing that we are darned lucky to be able to go to the store for abundant food! and the doctor for meds.

Mar 29, 2009, 5:25pm Top

I've been trying to think this one through too. I began with, "It's part of my heritage" as a Southerner who grew up hearing stories told in a manner close to ancestor worhip. I suppose that didn't hurt, but in fact, I would love history if I didn't know what Greatgranddaddy did when Sherman's army came through or that Great-great-great+grandmother was pregant with g-g-g,etc.granduncle when she fell into Charleston harbor disembarking from her ship. I think I'm just a person who breathes, "It's old" in the same reverent tones of one who says, "It's cutting-edge." And, somewhat like Cyderry's #8, it's personal. I want to know the story. I want to see how the human animal adapted to circumstances far removed from my own and what that says about human capabilities.
So why is my favorite genre science fiction? I don't think I have anything against the present (except what we all have against this particular present), but I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that the question is really, "Why read anything?" My answer, to know more than I can know through my one little limited life, is about all I can come up with.....and I'm off to dig out my copy of Guns, Germs, and Steel because I haven't read it and I really need something new to read right now!

Mar 29, 2009, 5:52pm Top

I've been thinking about this question more, and realized that part of the reason that I want to read history is that I feel deprived. Not of what they went through, but in looking back at my education, and I had a fairly good one, I feel like I missed some of the stories that now I'm getting to.

For instance, in high school when they started in on American history, the teachers concentrated on the Mayflower and Jamestown, and the Revolutionary War and then the Mexican War and then the Civil War. Somehow we never got to the politics of the day, how the government was formed, the diplomatic issues that were problems back when the good old USA was starting up. I don't remember ever getting to the 20th century in history class so I feel like I know nothing of the Great Depression other than the Stock Market crashed, WWII other than Hitler was the bad guy, or the threat of Communism - other than Russia was not a good place. Now I have the opportunity to go back and fill in all the blanks that I have in my knowledge of what has led up to where we are today.

That's the main reason why I have taken on the US President's Challenge to read their biographies. I felt that as the leaders of our nation, their bios would give me the information that is lacking in my knowledge. That said, I have found that I need to read a bunch of other books to fill in the background that their bios have not supplied. I have read bios for Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison so far as well as background books on the framing of the constitution, Benjamin Franklin's bio, Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts which is about some of the women who had a major part in the early history of the US and a definitive account of the War of 1812. As I move forward in history, I hope to discover all the missing fragments that will make me feel that I truly understand where this nation came from and where it is going. (A BIG QUEST and I hope I'm up for the Challenge!)

Anyone who'd care to join in, here's the link.

Mar 29, 2009, 6:38pm Top

>14 LizzieD:, 15
Well said, you guys. Filling in blanks is a relentless pursuit of mine too!

Mar 29, 2009, 8:23pm Top

A couple of years back I read The Iliad and got sucked in, big time. I decided to go after the classical education I never got in school and have done so, with a vengeance, reading primary sources (Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Aristophanes) and some great contemporary works of history, as well as listening to Teaching Company courses in the car, as well as participating in great boards like this one in LibraryThing.

This isn't the first time I've done this. I spent years reading biographies of the Presidents of the United States (and cyderry, thanks for the invite to your group!), studying the Civil War and delving into colonial America. I find a period and become semi-obsessed, hanging maps up in my office, chasing bibliographies online, watching Ken Burns documentaries while running on the treadmill.

I friggin' love history and I don't understand why everyone doesn't get the same jolt I get out of it.

I have learned a whole lot more out of school than I ever did in it, but I credit my BA in History from Fairfield University for teaching me "how" to learn in an organized, analytical fashion.

When I focused on the Civil War, I read books like The Battle Cry of Freedom by McPherson and biographies of Lincoln, but I also read primary sources, and studied maps, and I read novels like Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Red Badge of Courage. I used immersion as my method -- just as I am currently doing with ancient Greece -- and the rewards are utterly outstanding.

So my answer to why I read history, beyond all the explanations, is that I feel drawn to it and compelled to follow ...

Edited: Mar 30, 2009, 8:25am Top

I used to read only fiction, and the more I read, the more predictable it got. The characters got more one dimensional, the plots more contrived, the dialogue more monotonous. I thought I was actually getting burned out on reading (heaven forbid!)

Then I decided to try narrative history, and you know what? It wasn't me. Suddenly, the characters weren't acting in a predictable fashion any more, the stories weren't all neat and nicely packaged, plans went awry in the most spectacular fashions, and the people didn't all live happily ever after until the end of their days.

I do enjoy learning about the past, but mainly I like history because - well because no made up story can beat real live history.

Mar 30, 2009, 7:47am Top

I agree with all of that. I have always enjoyed history, even in high school. My approach to history has changed as I have aged, but that's the beauty of it, there is plenty of history to go around and there is always so much more to learn.

I also agree with Cheli about doing the Presidents Challenge for the purpose of getting a chronological view.

Mar 30, 2009, 11:27am Top

Feicht, by studying history I've learned science is important because it gives humanity new ways to bonk one another over the head over random gods.

Mar 30, 2009, 8:50pm Top

This seems like an interesting group of people. There are many posts that question history and historiography. There seem to be a lot of thinkers in this group. I have studied history all my life. When I was very young I liked the stories. I moved from stories to meanings which could be used to understand my self and my environment. I liked history so much that I studied it in college. A very important aspect of history is that there is no Truth in it. There are many truths, but no Truth. The use of the capital T is to stress the fact that history is interpretation. To the degree that we interpret our lives, we are all historians. Professional historians need to get paid and therefore need to publish. They adress only each other. Their writing is not intended for non-historians. Only truly great historians address the common reader. You can figure out which ones they are.

Mar 30, 2009, 9:07pm Top

I think I am a little , in a very very modest way, like Garp - a few years ago, maybe some decades ago, I read a lot of civil war history. I ended up with Battle Cry of Freedom, but before that i read all of Bruce Catton, whom I relished (is he regarded as a good historian?), and Sherman's memoirs and a biography of Grant and Mrs. Grant (odd that as a southerner I was not interested in Lee.., but I think Cold Mountain entered into this period somewhere.). I like to go deep (relatively speaking) when something interests me. If I enjoy one book an author has written I like to read all of the books. History lends itself to that.

I have also enjoyed reading history as an anodyne to feeling like the novels I've been reading - even the science fiction - are brain candy. Last year at Stellar's recommendation I read Weinberg's A World at Arms and was so engrossed and amazed at how little I had known before.

Mar 30, 2009, 9:48pm Top

>22 kokipy:
"If I enjoy one book an author has written I like to read all of the books."

She is not kidding. If you have read a great book by someone, and you tell her about it, the next time you speak to her she has read The Complete Works of!

Weinberg's A World at Arms -- one of my very favorite comprehensive histories of WWII.

Mar 30, 2009, 9:59pm Top

One of -- maybe even *the* primary reason I enjoy reading history -- is because I dearly love to read about people. Biographies are one of my fave genres: I've always been intrigued by different times and cultures, and *why* people thought or behaved as they did.

>17 Garp83:
Garp, I suspect you and I may have a similar approach to history, and fascination with people. Not to mention becoming immersed. Ditto for you too, Kokipy.

Mar 30, 2009, 10:13pm Top

Think I'm going to love reading from this group.

Mar 30, 2009, 10:58pm Top

>21 cbellia:

Cbellia, I will disagree that only the truly great historians address the common reader. The great historians can make history accessible to the common reader. But there's hacks who write for the common reader too. There is a huge gap. Thomas L. Thompson writes publicly accessible, but from what I know of his work, he's not a good historian. I admit some bias, William G. Dever has a very low opinion of Thompson. Dever also categorized Israel Finkelstein as a revisionist like Thompson, but what I have read from Finkelstein (David and Solomon is solid history. It is also accessible history, which I somewhat lament, but only for the lack of notation in the text. Finkelstein used few footnotes for David and Solomon.

I started just loving history, now I look for the scholarship involved in what I'm reading. I'll happily wade through a dry book if the scholarship is good. That said, L. William Countryman was an engaging read with scholarship and exegesis. I compare him to Berhnard Anderson, who writes very well and documents expansively, but has horrific analysis. Anderson did help me greatly by refining my reading.

Which brings me to my final note, history is my first love, but I dance with religious studies more now with a historical perspective.

Mar 31, 2009, 5:07am Top

So, I'm probably the only one in here who's not particularly interested in History with a big H. I was, once upon a time. I even contemplated a career in teaching history.

But my main interest is culture, history of ideas, of how hegemonies rise and fall, how the things that surrounds us - including economical factors - influence us and our societies (and our language), and the interaction between different interests and different customs.

This means I read a wide variety of non fiction, some of which fits in the 'history' segment and some which better fits in 'political sciences' or the economical dito.

In Sweden we have a special field called 'idéhistoria'. The literal translation is 'history of ideas', but I suspect it correlates best to how philosophies have evolved in tandem with their host societies. This, and not the intense study of historical events like battles, is my main focus.

Mar 31, 2009, 11:13am Top

>27 Busifer:
Is that the Swedish term for "intellectual history", Busifer?

Mar 31, 2009, 12:57pm Top

It could well be - I've been searching for the appropriate corresponding terminology for some time, without luck so far.

The field explore the evolution or development of different systems of ideas, or philosophies, over time. "Intellectual" history kind of implies, to me at least, that the bearer of a certain set of ideas or values is conscious of his or her set of values or ideas, while the field is more concerned with what ideas prevailed when and why, and what came before and what followed (and why).

Mar 31, 2009, 7:26pm Top

Wow what a great group posting here so far. I am impressed.

kokipy -- you have 2799 books -- you are not allowed to be modest!!

busifer -- I'm a lot like that too. And that's why I like "Big History" because it encompasses literally everything. And that's why in my own "independent studies" I include fiction if it is germane to the topic. You can't fully grasp the developing antebellum repugnance towards slavery if you don't read Uncle Tom's Cabin cover to cover -- and I didn't realize that till I put Shelby Foote down for a spell and read Stowe. So ideas are history and cannot and should not be divorced from historical studies. That's why my study of ancient Greece includes works for all disciplines, not simply the standard defined history -- I read mythology, philosophy, verse, epic, drama, comedy -- as much as I can absorb, even a couple of historical novels, although that's not my genre per se.

Edited: Mar 31, 2009, 8:03pm Top

I think I've mentioned this elsewhere on here too but while I think the names/dates/places approach is important, and is stuff that needs to be learned, the thing that I really enjoy about history is being able to imagine what life was like for people at any given time.

It's one thing to know the date a specific part of your ancestry was converted to Christianity; it's another to be able to picture the situation itself... for instance, your great-great-great-etc grandfather on the battlefield with his buddies as his leader takes it upon himself to convert his army to Xtianity, out of the kindness of his heart, no doubt. "Hey what'd he say, I didn't quite make it out..." "Something about 'you're all krissitins now'...I think." "DUDE, Wotan is gonna be pissed!!"

Mar 31, 2009, 8:34pm Top

MisfitKotLD: Checking footnotes and appreciating good scholarship is the work of historians and reflective readers. It is what makes reading history engaging and worthwhile. But we must keep in mind that revisionist history is often a use history. I wonder why some histories are so often retold. Each generation finds a history worth remembering. Do we need to justify our beliefs?

BTW I love the photo of your cat.

Mar 31, 2009, 9:58pm Top

Trying to catch up. I began reading history very young because I found it very entertaining. One of my first history books was The Story of Mankind. I was probably ten when I picked it up. I remember reading about Ancient Greece and getting a feel of all the stories that make up history.
Then I wanted to learn the stories, the who, what,why, when and where.
Then I read The Rise of the West and got a glimpse of big picture history. That changed my perspective and I wanted to learn how we got to where we are. How the actions of individuals added up to the sprawl of society all over the planet.
In college I studied Chinese history to go as far as I could from what I knew and study how different people could be and why they made that way of life.
Now I read history for all of those reasons and I look for patterns and purpose. Isn't "why" the really big question? From a day to day to a cosmic level there should be some clue in the story of human activity.
I can't go inside of people to study humanity so studying history is holding up a mirror to what I can learn of what has been done. From what one person does in a moment to the actions of whole societies over eras. I think they are trying to tell me something and I want to know what it is.
Finally I study history out of a love for womankind and mankind. I know they can be despicable and wonderful but they are who I am.
At night when I am trying to get to sleep I pick a year in the past and go around the world. Looking and thinking about what everyone is doing. I study history so I can learn what that is and try to understand.

Mar 31, 2009, 10:01pm Top

>33 wildbill:
Well said, wildbill. Thank you --

Mar 31, 2009, 10:10pm Top

wildbill -- let me add a round of applause ... and its nice to see you on this board!

Mar 31, 2009, 11:34pm Top

Cbellia, what do you mean by "But we must keep in mind that revisionist history is often a use history?" Is that a typo? Revisionist isn't necessarily an engaging read or a bad read, though the term revisionist gets bandied about as if revision is inherently a bad thing, which it is not.

Part of the retelling is the story and part of it is reinterpretation due to new schools of thought or new data that must be taken into account.

Apr 1, 2009, 12:23am Top

I think there is some confusion as to the use of the term "revisionist" - many people use it to mean history that has been amended after further research has added to the base of facts we know, and that's all to the good.

The bad kind of "revisionist" history, which I expect most of you will also find anathema, is the kind that re-writes history to conform to modern ideas of what is "politically correct" or "nice." An example would be those who say that the Holocaust didn't really happen; there are other cases in plenty.

Apr 1, 2009, 5:46pm Top

I was never much of a history reader; it wasn't one of the subjects that engrossed me at school. I have enjoyed a few works of historical fiction, particularly the ones that include real people among the cast of characters. But about a decade ago I got interested in the second world war, when my workplace got a case of Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge Too Far and I took a couple of copies home (one for my stepfather who had a birthday approaching). I picked up Ryan's other two WWII books The Longest Day and The Last Battle (the last still as yet unread), and around the same time I read Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich and a biography of Hitler.

I've more recently come to realize that I enjoy a good story, and history has those in abundance if one knows where to look. A good jumping-off point I've found is a podcast called "Hardcore History" by Dan Carlin. I'd been listening to Carlin's political podcast "Common Sense" for over a year before I thought to check out the history podcast that he mentions from time to time on CS. Carlin describes himself as "a fan of history" rather than a historian, and his podcast really makes history entertaining. In particular one might check out his monstrous three-parter on the Punic wars. www.dancarlin.com.

I'm still not very well-read in history, but I hope to change that, and along with Dan Carlin's show, joining this group seems as good a way as any to continue.

Apr 1, 2009, 6:15pm Top

I'm going to recycle my answer to a similar question that was asked in the Non-Fiction Readers group because it's still the best reasoning I can come up with:

I have an unnatural compulsion to fill my head with as much useless information as it will hold. I have no better explanation.

Plus, nonfiction books more often than not contain the best stories I've ever read.

Apr 1, 2009, 7:01pm Top

Nearly every post above contains something that resonates with me. I love the stories and the "truth is stranger than fiction" aspect of history. I like to think about how we got where we are today as a culmination of everything that happened in the past. I love the unexpected things people did, evil or heroic or foolish or brilliant. I love the way events often turn on one individual's actions or on such chance factors as weather or luck.

At some point I realized that learning dates wasn't nearly as important as learning chronology--it's important to know that some things caused other things or that one idea led to another.

And yeah, what Fleela said about useless information. I'm just waiting for my chance to go on Jeopardy.

Apr 1, 2009, 7:30pm Top

ejj -- well said. And welcome!!

Apr 1, 2009, 11:06pm Top

Thank you, Garp!

Edited: Apr 2, 2009, 1:04am Top

>40 ejj1955:
Nice post --

Yeah, I've got that Jeopardy/trivia thing going too, ejj.

I was actually on a kids TV trivia show as a 12 year old. I was leading going into the final round. The final category was "Customs and traditions of Christmas." I had very limited background in the Christian faith or its customs, unfortunately. For the win, they named a bunch of reindeer and the question was "Which reindeer is missing from the list?"

I knew it! I knew the answer! I buzzed in before the competition. "Rudolph!" I shouted. "Rudolph!"

I sat stunned in disbelief when I was told that "Rudolph is not a real reindeer."

"But...but...excuse me, but none of them are real, Maam."

I lost, and another kid was invited to return again the next week.

Apr 2, 2009, 1:35pm Top

That is so unfair!

I was on my high school bowl team and we lost our second match when one team member answered a question (the capital of Georgia: he said Augusta) without checking with the rest of the team. It was extremely disappointing but I couldn't be too mad, as I was madly crushing on the guy!

I got as far as the tryouts/interview for Jeopardy but never got called from the contestant pool. I think I messed up too much on this year's online test, but there's always next year . . .

Apr 2, 2009, 3:19pm Top

A friend of mine was on Jeopardy a few years ago and won the first day. Sadly, I caught his second appearance, where he was spanked badly.

Apr 2, 2009, 7:43pm Top

My use of the word "use history" relates to using history to justify events in our time. I don't want to confuse the term with revisionist history. We reinterpret the past so that current events become justifiable. We find comfort in the belief that we are part of a historical continuum.
We can't change the past. We can only change the way we remember the past.
(We can use the word remember interchangably with reintepret). Changing our memory of the past to fit a current theory can be a misuse of the historical record. An example is the way Americans interpreted the Bible so that they could justify slavery. That is "use history". As we read history we must be aware of what the historian is saying and why it is being said.
I don't know who said it. If anyone knows, we must give the writer credit.
"History is a screen upon which we project our image of the future." That's a good use of History.

Apr 2, 2009, 10:14pm Top

I'm not necessarily sure justifying slavery with the Bible is a misuse. Slavery was a social norm at the time of its writing. I may not agree with slavery, but my feelings on it have no impact on slavery's existence during biblical times. Of course, one may say Paul's reasoning wasn't approval as much as imminent eschatological expectations. "Don't worry about it, you won't be a slave much longer anyway."

But I will agree, interpretations (sometimes loose enough to hardly qualify as an interpretation) are used for political and other agendas.

Apr 3, 2009, 2:43pm Top

What an interesting group! I'm so glad I found you before all the discussions got too involved to catch up with.

I read history, I think, to learn how we got to where we are today. And to learn how people in the past saw the world.

Lately I've been reading a lot about Lincoln, in a rather haphazard fashion. And I read most of That Sweet Enemy, which discusses the relationhip of Britian and France from the Sun King to the present. I petered out after WWII, but found the discussion of WWI fascinating.

Apr 3, 2009, 10:47pm Top

>48 jennieg:
Welcome jennieg!

Jun 15, 2010, 1:01pm Top

Why do I read history? Why do I read historical documents?
I have found that reading material written before I was born is fascinating because of the contextual differences. I have found that some things like complaints about education go a long way back, people complained about the manners of New Yorkers long before I was born and some people have interesting visions of the future that contain some similarities with actuality.
I also love reading history books to understand the rise and fall of civilizations and think about the future of humans and the Universe.

Jun 18, 2010, 12:44pm Top

I'm still trying to think about this. In high school the history I was taught was primarily about the history of my country. It wasn't my idea to know anything about it. My interest in Physics when I entered University led me to read a classic entitled "The Science of Mechanics" in which the author wrote, "They that know the entire course of the development of science, will, as a matter of course, judge more freely and more correctly of the significance of any present scientific movement than they, who, limited in their views to the age in which their own lives have been spent, contemplate
merely the momentary trend that the course of intellectual events takes at the present moment." There seems some truth in the statement.
A few years later, My interest in R.B. Fuller led me to read the writings of A.T. Mahan. I also looked up an article by R.B. Fuller article in Fortune magazine from 1940 on microfilm. In both cases, I found interesting other articles and writings such as "The Persian Gulf and International Relations" by A.T. Mahan and Fortune articles from the 1930's with giant global maps explaining where different commodities came from. Since then I have found it very interesting to read books from earlier times and try to understand the full context of the world and times the authors lived in. It's very easy to have incorrect ideas about what people knew at the time. Historical accounts can also mislead one.

Edited: Jun 19, 2010, 4:52am Top

laserblue, you have mentioned Buckminster Fuller several times in various posts. I am pleased by this, as Fuller has long been one of my heroes. I was fortunate to have heard him speak in person on several occasions. Naturally, he was still alive at the time. :-)

This visionary genius had a concept of the world as a whole, of the need to regard the resources of the planet as the collective inheritance of all mankind, long before it was fashionable. He had an enormous influence on me as a young person.

My Buckminster Fuller books, most of which you have lb: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/stellarexplorer&tag=buckminster%2Bfuller

just in case you don't know, here is the website of the Buckminster Fuller Institute:

Edited: Jun 19, 2010, 1:04pm Top

Thanks for the website address stellarexplorer. I've had it for decades but I'm sure someone else might find it to be of interest.
I was into Dr. Fuller's books in the mid 1980's and got into the microfilm reels then (and purchased a Dymaxion Map). I do mention Dr. Fuller a lot and I just hope people don't get sick of hearing me mention him. He had a lot of interesting ideas and unique viewpoints. His ideas regarding history were not conventional but certainly made one reassess things. He was also known for believing in the bow theory of history so you didn't want to drink too much tea and ask about the future of Universities. I don't know how one would describe his ideas on history in "Nine Chains to the Moon", "Critical Path" (Speculative Prehistory), "Epic Poem on Industrialization" etc. Some might say he was a history crank but he was at least doing his own thinking. His use of archetypal/mythology patterns sort of like the myths in "Hamlet's Mill" were interesting but would never be accepted by historians as accurate abstractions .
I especially love his BIG PICTURE visualization of history in "Epic Poem on the History of Industrialization". He introduces his object of study with a scene in terms of a person beside a railroad track, then a speeding train on the train track, and then a plane flying by viewing the person stopped at the traintrack and the train moving slowly towards the horizon.

Jun 19, 2010, 5:52pm Top

One other thing I have always found felicitous about Fuller's life was the manner of his death. I followed it as he was closely associated with my undergrad institution and it was in the air.

He'd been married to his beloved wife for 70 years or so. What is it like to lose your partner of such duration? He lapsed into a coma, outcome uncertain. Then his wife died. Then he died. neither had to endure the loss of the other. Perfect.

Jun 20, 2010, 1:03pm Top

I've read several accounts of that story stellarexplorer. It sounds romantic and makes for a beautiful ending to a lifelong relationship. It certainly could have turned out differently if he had taken the George Bailey route and drowned himself in Lake Michigan.
I don't know if I would attach much signifcance to the closeness of the time of death though. It's a bit like pointing out that Newton was born when Galileo died or Albert Einstein was born when James Clerk Maxwell died.
What do you say to a topic on Bucky's ideas related to history and this planet Chizla?

Jun 20, 2010, 1:38pm Top

>55 laserblue: Yes, but Newton and Galileo or Einstein and Maxwell didn't have a deeply interpersonal relationship, which I think is the point of what Stellarexplorer says about the death of Fuller and his wife. My mother used to mention that Nixon and his wife died less than a year apart, and after my father died (after 53 years of marriage) she made it clear she didn't have much interest in living longer, though she survived him by 4 years.

Jun 20, 2010, 2:30pm Top

>56 ejj1955: Yes, ejj is right. I am not attributing any special or mystical significance to the timing; rather just indicating how lovely it was that neither had to endure the painful loss of the other that surely would have ensued had things gone differently.

Jun 25, 2010, 6:43pm Top

Old statistics, but back in the late 80's I read some research that had found that when the wife died first the man often (don't remember numbers...) died within a year - the large majority was dead within 5 years of the wife's demise. When the husband died first the wife often lived on for 10 years or more but a large number died relatively soon after the significant other died.

When you lose interest in life the body often gives in rather fast, even if no one can find what's ailing, physically.

No comments on Bucky.

Jun 25, 2010, 8:33pm Top

>58 Busifer: Confidentially, and even though I am decades away from being old, I worry already that I will not fare well should stellarwoman predecease me! I am trying to take your advice from the Collapse of Civ thread, Busifer. I must stop worrying about what will become of me in thirty years and just live now!!


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