STUDYINGHISTORY

It is an odd task. Many people cannot understand the point of studying history since it “already happened” and “you can’t prove any of it”, but I have yet to find a field that focuses entirely on future events or a science that is entirely provable.

I get the strangest sense of enjoyment when I read The Epic of Gilgamesh. Most students in my class approach the writing with disdain as if the writers were simple cavemen who fell upon a rock and accidentally etched a story. However, the Epic’s writing is remarkably profound (whether literary depth in general is the design of the author is worth another article) and features some very advanced literary elements considering it was the first documented major work of literature.

The Epic is endearing in its almost experimental tone. The inclusion of remnants from its original orally presented format such as the excessive repetition shows how it was a learning experience for the writer(s). There is something undeniably beautiful in reading the first story ever.

  1. An old Irish adage, my friend: Learn from the past. Prepare for the future. Drink for today.

    Winston

    Feb 27, 10:05 PM #

  2. I find ancient history very interesting, I suppose it’s because I can’t really relate to the people of that age. Trying to imagine them living their daily lives, producing works of art and fabricating surprisingly intricate items with their comparatively underdeveloped technology intrigues me. When I travelled to Greece it was particularly poignant to see the massive structures and be able to touch things made by people thousands of years ago which are still standing today. Maybe I should have studied more history…

    I agree there is a definite beauty in experiencing such an important and exclusive work. I should read it.

    Dylan

    Feb 27, 10:28 PM #

  3. Whenever I hear someone say there’s no point in studying history it makes me think of that person as being superficial. Do they even like to read? Are they selfish? Are they hedonistic, only living for the now? Are they close minded?

    Perhaps that’s weird but it seems to me any of those things can lead to people not caring or understanding learning history. Though maybe there are other reasons and probably more benign reasons for not being interested in history.

    dharh

    Feb 28, 08:48 PM #

  4. Dylan:
    “When I travelled to Greece it was particularly poignant to see the massive structures and be able to touch things made by people thousands of years ago which are still standing today.”

    Ancient Egypt is another are to look into. There are still a few structures and temples built by the ancient Egyptians that have still not been equalled.

    dharh:
    “Whenever I hear someone say there’s no point in studying history it makes me think of that person as being superficial. Do they even like to read? Are they selfish? Are they hedonistic, only living for the now? Are they close minded?”

    It is hard to be angry (even puzzled) at people who find history a little boring because we all know how easily a topic such as this can become comatose-inducing in the hands of a bad teacher.

    Thame

    Mar 1, 09:06 AM #

  5. History is interpretation. Through archeology and other fields, we can acertain certain historical events and turn them into facts; but these facts must, ultimately, be interpreted.

    I will assume that we are all familiar with the maxim: “Those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Indeed but history is not so simple. History is never repeated; similarity is not the same as sameness.

    Also, history, unlike the natural sciences, e.g., physics and biology, is not guided by ‘universal laws’. I would argue that the natural sciences are future-oriented. I say this because by ‘discovering’ (or is it inventing?) ‘laws’, they are able to predict events. Thus, they can say speak of cause and effect.

    History may seem to be future-oriented, but it should not be so; history cannot predict the future. History is the purported unfolded present; I say purported because we interpret the past.

    Also, to add to the idea that history is not guided by ‘universal laws’, I will signal out the fact that there is no such thing as the history of mankind. There are only particular histories, e.g, Roman history, etc.

    I have yet to read Gilgamesh – I am tempted not to read it because I know it is fractured and I would be left wondering about the lost parts.

    The epic was an oral story, as, e.g., the Iliad. The repetition is necessary, it is a mechanism that facilitates memorization. Thus, the bard is able to guess what the next line is. Oddly enough, there are less errors when something is kept oral than when it is written down (I wonder why that is).

    Juan

    Mar 1, 03:53 PM #

  6. Hello Juan, long time no see :D

    That is a very good description of history (and our misconceptions).

    “Also, history, unlike the natural sciences, e.g., physics and biology, is not guided by ‘universal laws’.”

    Wouldn’t the laws guiding the natural sciences (psychology, physics, biology) similarly guide history?

    “The epic was an oral story, as, e.g., the Iliad. The repetition is necessary, it is a mechanism that facilitates memorization.”

    I mentioned that:
    The inclusion of remnants from its original orally presented format such as the excessive repetition shows how it was a learning experience for the writer(s).

    Thame

    Mar 1, 04:21 PM #

  7. I don’t think that there are ‘laws’ applicable to history. Because of the law of gravity, we can say that if I were to throw something into the air, it would by consequence fall (that which goes up must come down). Or we can say that a particular type of thread can support such-and-such weight and if it it exceeds it, the thread will break.

    Nothing like this exists with history, i.e, causal explanations. Because ‘laws’ do not truly apply to history, we can always re-interpret history. For this same reason, various explanations exist for the same historical events. For example, if there are two armies that are approximately equally-armed but one has superiority in men, are we to say that whenever we have this situation, the result will be that the one with the superiority in men will win?

    Because of the lack of laws to explain historical events, history possesses infinite subject matter, which makes history the more interesting. But also, it means that there will never be a ‘definite’ history.

    Juan

    Mar 1, 06:10 PM #

  8. I see. I was thinking of history as the recording of events (which I guess it is) but I was focusing more on the events themselves which would obviously be guided by the laws of nature.

    Stepping back and considering history as a “subject”, I see what you’re saying. The example of two armies is very good.

    Thanks

    Thame

    Mar 2, 07:37 PM #

  9. Heh, it took me a while to think of an example; I’m glad I found one that helps explain my point.

    I also used to consider history a recording events, ‘the past as it actually happened’, but now I realize that history is an endless re-interpretation; every generation re-interprets history in order to meet its needs, to help it understand its particular situation.

    What do you think about how we are taught history in school, i.e., ‘this is the past as it actually happened’? Or for that matter, every other subject, which are always presented as being tacitly true and finalized, not as something in progress and probably false. Do you think it hampers the students questioning ability, his tendency to challenge authority?

    Juan

    Mar 3, 11:07 AM #

  10. I think that school teaching is in general restrictive, and I continued to feel that nothing had changed even in college. Luckily, I have started going to more office hours this semester and am really starting to experience the education that I had envisioned when I used to think of “universities”.

    Thame

    Mar 3, 06:23 PM #

  11. You get out of University what you put into it. Most people are just here to get a job, but there are a good amount, like me, that are really here to learn.

    I think if you’re really at University to learn then you start to learn something they didn’t teach you in highschool: You, your parents, society, the ‘experts’ don’t really know that much. Sure there are things that we take for granted (electrons cause electricity), but there is very little that we truly know (we decribe electrons in many different ways but we don’t REALLLLLY know what they are, or else we would understand the entire universe).

    History is no different, the more you learn about it the more you learn how flawed it can be. But at the same time we tend to learn lessons in history from the bare facts that we can ascertain. I’m writing an English essay right now on ‘The View from Tamischeira’, and the topic is exploring why the author utilized fact and fiction together. A key question is why do we care about fact so much? about the existence of characters in history? It’s the lessons and motivations, the fiction, that truly teaches and enlightens. A book is just ink and wood pulp, the recreation inside of your head is what matters.

    That being said, history can help to give a full picture. I’m most likely going to be an anthropology minor and in class we have, of course, learned about Charles Darwin’s popularization of natural selection, but I have some problems with it. So, i’m actually reading Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’, and it has helped broaden my view of the subject a lot. I can see where his ideas are coming from.

    If I have one regret from highschool it’s that I didn’t read enough. Since i’ve started reading tons – I’ve learned tons.

    Eric. I

    Mar 5, 08:40 PM #

  12. Yes, the key is to actually want to learn. You cannot get a useful experience out of any form of education unless it is something you find interesting and can contribute more than just the basic requirements to.

    Thame

    Mar 6, 09:35 AM #

  13. Writing an essay on “The View from Tamischeira?” I just finished that essay actually. Do you go to UW, and do you happen to be taking English 105B with Eric McCormack? He’s a fantastic teacher, isn’t he? So interesting. I never get bored or sleepy in his class, despite the fact that I’m in the Tuesday night class. That’s so weird that I just happened to stumble across your post. I’m sure you’re in his class too, because telling the class that books are nothing but “ink and woodpulp” is one of his favourite things to do, I think. It’s true though. A book only is only as valuable as its readers make it. Without someone to read and think about a text, it becomes nothing but a collection of bound paper lying on the coffee table. The reader has more of a role in giving a book meaning than many realize.

    I’m going to be an English major. I have always loved reading anything that I can get my hands on. Now it’s just a matter of choosing which of the three English programs is for me….

    Colleen Reinhart

    Mar 12, 12:22 PM #

  14. Yep, that’s my prof and it sounds like you’re in my class! ... What are the odds?

    McCormack is great, hilarious, and downright crazy. Also he knows tons of neat things and he’s really made me think better when reading a book. This is the second class of his that i’ve had.

    ... i’m still weirded out. Anyways, good luck with the essay :)

    Eric. I

    Mar 12, 07:43 PM #

  15. Wow, that’s really cool :D

    How come nobody here is from UB?

    Thame

    Mar 13, 10:21 AM #

  16. Haha you’re right. I think he’s absolutely hysterical. It’s my second class of his that I’ve taken as well. I took 105A last term, and decided that after that I just had to take the follow-up course (105B). I’d love to take more of his classes, but I hear that he only teaches those two first-year courses, which is a shame.

    I sit in the front of the class—I have glasses, and light-brown (or dirty blonde) hair. I’m friends with Trineke, one of the people who he sometimes likes to pick on. We’re having a Slaughterhouse Five movie night not this Friday coming up, but the next, at STJ. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll give you the details.

    Colleen Reinhart

    Mar 20, 05:55 PM #

  17. Very cool…let me know what happens with your meeting because I’m seeing an extension to this site.

    That’s right, dating.erraticwisdom.com :D

    Thame

    Mar 20, 07:44 PM #

  18. pure stupidity

    alex

    Sep 30, 08:44 PM #

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