It seems like almost a daily occurrence in adult life- running into someone you knew a while ago, or meeting someone new- the first question that they ask is: “What do you do?”
Of course, my answer is what you’d expect. “I’m a historical research consultant.” Usually this is where it gets uncomfortable.
There is a pause, a scratching the back of the neck and then, “I HATED history class in high school.” Then they realize what they said and get awkward. “I mean, but… how interesting! Good for you!”
Usually, I smile politely and nod. But here is what I would like to tell them, and what I’d like to tell you:
I am not surprised you hated high school history. High school has to adhere to standards and so it teaches basic events like they are equations – cause and effect. Real people become heroes, so high up on a pedestal that they are unapproachable and unrelateable. More emphasis is placed on memorizing dates than understanding why things unfolded the way they did.
It’s such a shame. I wish that your teachers would have been able to put aside all of these national standardize requirements and figure out what part of history would resonate with you and make you passionate. The truth is I know there is a subject somewhere in there that would evoke passion.
Sure, maybe you thought the text book’s description about the invention of the steam engine was dull, but what if you found out that the only reason the town you live in exists at all was because of the people who moved there to build the track for it? What if you knew that your great grandfather rode the rails from city to city taking pictures of people who were living in squalor during the Great Depression? Would that change how you thought about history?
All that said, here are five of the many things I love about history:
- I love the feeling I get when I realize that people who lived 100 years before me, were really not all that different.
- I love the idea that one little thing could have changed everything about the world we live in today.
- I love that history touches everyone. History shows that we are all tied together into this incredible context of the human experience that spans geographic bounds and time.
- At its heart, history tells us a story. Who doesn't love a good story?
- I love that history allows me to understand innumerable topics, I will never run out of subjects to research or places I know little or nothing about. Even the greatest history “expert” cannot know everything, I find that humbling and challenging and it makes me rise to the occasion.
So, you don’t have to get awkward when you tell me you hated history in high school. It’s okay! You have every right not to love the things I love. But I wish for you the joy and the passion of knowing and loving something as complex and universal as history.
Hi, I'm Tara! I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed. I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week. Learn more about me and my work here.