And now, for something completely different

I don't really mention it too often, but I have a history degree.

A lot of people assume that history classes in the college and university level focus entirely on events - you spend the entire class associating names with dates, going on and on in an endless litany. And, well, this is not really case. While you do get a fair amount of dates and names, the main focus on the class is on comparing and contrasting events, and trying to interpret what was going on.

And often, in that interpretation, looking at ourselves. Really, how we interpret the past says a lot about who we are as a people now.

For example, the Romans. The Romans, as an empire, died out sometime in the third or fourth century C.E. (Common Era), though they'd been having problems before that. Now, we've had a lot of knowledge about the Romans, in the form of written records preserved at the time. There is relatively little in the amount of new knowledge that's filtered in over the years - archaeology gives us all sorts of pieces that fill in the "little picture", but the "big picture" has more or less been known since the late middle ages.

And yet, every few decades, the theory on why the empire ended has changed. It went from divine punishment (the Romans killed Christ, after all), to being one about the perils of autocratic government. By the time of the french revolution, the theory was that it collapsed under the weight of an overly centralized government. More modern theories spoke about the problems of extending the franchise of roman citizenship to too many people, that the empire could no longer sustain itself except through a military-industrial complex (sound familiar?).

In the 1980s, a lot of theories were written about the welfare state that Rome had become, since over a million romans were "on the dole". And it might come as a surprise to learn that the theories have changed since then - a lot of historians now say that part of the roman collapse was due to ecological strain that the romans were putting on their environment.

I'm not really interested in talking about the romans, here, though they are absolutely fascinating to read about. Instead, it is the fact that the past hasn't changed. The past cannot change. But our interpretation of the past can change. And history teaches us that we can use whatever lens we'd like to look back on past human lessons learned, and walk away a bit wiser as a result. Because here's the thing - all those theories? Most probably have a grain of truth in them, that we can use to better our own lives.

It bothers me that history degrees lead to nothing but McJobs. Way I see it, they should be mandatory for anyone involved in the public works. But then, maybe that's just because I'm sick of my McJob.


  1. People tend to focus on the one thing. One climactic point,instead of the whole. Though it may be a couple of pebbles that start the slide, you can't ignore that it was made of thousands richoteting offa each other. Some see the destruction some see those couple of pebbles how many see them all moving at once? How do you see them all at once? All those theories for sure couldve contributed, even to those who may scoff now at the christ thing, ought to realise how effective the psychological effect that could have on a superstitious mind and how it may effect future actions.

    About the McJobs thing, its one to thing to have knowledge, another experience, whats wisdom but experienced knowledge. Knowledge is intangible at times, you may know how to sail a boat but put on one could you? Its how you decide to use that knowledge that takes you places. Perhaps you need to expand your knowledge on where yours can potentially take you ;)
    Or simply stop, and listen to yourself.

    "And history teaches us that we can use whatever lens we'd like to look back on past human lessons learned, and walk away a bit wiser as a result"
    Sometimes you don't learn as much as you potentially could though, if your wearing a tinted lense eh?

  2. That's the thing. You can't LOOK at the whole. It's too big. So you look at one piece, and see what we can learn from that piece.

    And while I use the thought processes from my degree fairly often, the piece of paper is useless. I don't buy into the "everyone that has a crappy job deserves to be there because they lack drive" theory.

    Everyone has a tinted lens, though. THose that say they don't are the ones you have to be really wary of.