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29 July 2002

I've been thinking about it, and not only will I be taking three history classes this fall, but I'm half-convinced that the best way I could possibly spend the last two years of college would be taking as many history classes as possible.

This is a rather new way of thinking for me. You know, up until my junior year in high school, I didn't like studying history at all.

I like to blame this on an utter lack of inspiring history teachers through much of my schooling. That certainly didn't do anything to help my perception of history as a dusty, irrelevant study of uninteresting events of the past. From feudalism and the Renaissance in Europe to the never-ending procession of early presidents and Revolutionary and Civil War battles, it was all just constantly dull, from elementary school through junior high and high school.

Then, during my junior year, the first turning point occurred. My AP US History teacher was a man who absolutely turned history class into story time. He may not have been an amazing teacher, although he was definitely a good one, but the crucial thing he did was to make history class something to look forward to for the first time in my life. He presented the possibility that history could be fascinating and intriguing.

Regardless, I didn't take another history class until my sophomore year in college. At some point during that year, I decided that I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could about as many places as I possibly could, a goal that has become increasingly central for me over time. Part of it stemmed from a disappointment with the political science classes I was taking, which was partially due to the profs but also to the discipline itself, I think. I wanted to learn more than I was being taught.

So I took a history class on Latin America and one on Africa, and followed that up with a history-related class about the Islamic world, alongside my American history class about the Sixties. And suddenly I realized that it made sense to minor in history, and then to major in it, neither of which seemed remotely likely before.

I'm not sure what exactly made me so conscious of the diversity of experience, culture, and history on our earth, prompting me to try to study as much of it as I can while in college, and to do it in this way. But the idea has grown on me more and more, until it's become central to the way I think about my academic experience.

Of course, I've also always had an aversion to the sort of history that They think I should study. I want to study Latin America and the Middle East and Japan and Russia, all sorts of places that Lynne Cheney and her ilk would gasp at. Since They want me to study Western Civ, I've wanted to get as far away from it as possible. Besides, the Renaissance and other parts of European history have always been ridiculously boring to me, and Greece and Rome only mildly more interesting, while I've spent enough years on American history in public school that even if it were more interesting than it is, I wouldn't ask for any more. Sorry, conservatives. I want to spend as much of my time as I can casting my net of understanding, superficial as it may be, as wide as I possibly can.

But I do have to reluctantly admit that there may be a few good reasons behind those areas of history that are "supposed" to be important. So I've finally given in to the fact that perhaps maybe some parts of European history actually are important. Like, say, the 20th century. Those World Wars and such. Sort of relevant, I suppose. At the moment, I'm just trying to take books out of the library to read about that stuff on my own. (In fact, I think that, due to practical limitations, I'm going to have to learn a lot of the things that I want to explore through books instead of through classes and professors. Regrettable, but something I'm more than willing to do. And since this summer will likely be one of my best opportunities to do a lot of reading, I'm going to try to take advantage of it.) But I'm certainly considering taking some classes on European history if I can.

Nonetheless, I still maintain a definite prejudice towards 20th century history. Yes, I admit, there have been many things prior to the twentieth century that have profoundly shaped life as people live it, and that have lessons to teach. But 20th century history is living history, the kind that gets me excited and makes me feel like what I'm studying is important. People who are alive today, and their parents, have lived the history that makes up the century, and it affects the way people think and feel and act and interact. To understand world history in the twentieth century is to understand the lives of the six billion people who currently live on this planet in a way that earlier history just doesn't explain. Perhaps it's just that I'm simple enough that I don't have the patience to trace the intricate indirect connections over time, but those direct and living connections excite me in a way that earlier history just can't.

Some people would say that recent history isn't real history; I might disagree, but that's not the point. Whatever you call it, I want to understand what's occurred over the last hundred years in as many regions of the world as I can. I know it'll all be too superficial, but I'd rather give it a shot and learn as much as I'm capable of. I don't know what it will prepare me for in life, other than hopefully having a little more insight into people and their cultures, but I suppose I'll figure that out after I graduate.

 

Last updated 5 September, 2002

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Intellectual Property Rights denounced by Britt Gordon-McKeon, 2002