History

Consider this page to be perpetually incomplete. Perhaps there is just an outline here waiting to be fleshed out. There’s always more to add, but it was lasted updated on: [8/4/2020]

“History” can mean “general trends in the past,” and it can mean “a collection of facts about the past.” Properly, I think it means both. Like, there are people who can name every U.S. vice president and that sort of thing. I am not that kind of person.

As I approach it, history is a useful component of my daily life. It helps keep me calm, it helps inspire and enliven me, and it gives me warning (at the time, people didn’t take the Spanish Flu seriously either). It allows me to reach back thousands of years to find fraternity with long-dead writers.

This requires some grip of both large historical trends and smaller details. The discrete event of Socrates ingesting hemlock needs broader knowledge about Athens to pull out significance. Madame Curie’s discovery of radium explodes into vibrant inspiration and rage once one knows the larger context of the contemporary scientific establishment and the Sorbonne.

Both macro and micro are required to produce a grasp of history that is useful to the conduct of daily life. And if you are, say, a politician, history is vital to the conduct of your job.

My primary motivation when learning history goes like this: “People are the same across time. Human nature is enduring. The built and social context of humanity might change, but humans fundamentally do not. The macro events that I witness and my personal thoughts and feelings are probably precedented. People have been there and felt that before. You are not alone. We are not alone.”

A side note: a survey of the past will reveal that “melancholy,” or a deep sort of depression, seemed to be common. At the very least, many people wrote and thought about it. One could suspect that melancholy/depression is just a human thing that can be moved past and dealt with. It could be regular. Of course there are more acute, clinical versions of it, I don’t doubt that. But melancholy that has a real, heavy effect seems to have been with us always. And so have capacities to overcome and avoid it. With regard to depression, historical knowledge can empower an individual.