Recently, I asked a few of my friends on Facebook if they had any questions for me, anything they were wondering about me that might make an interesting blog post. I have lots of things I want to write about, you see, but they’re all pretty serious or emotional things from my past. So I wanted something lighthearted. Well, a few people answered and gave me some good suggestions – and with today’s post, I’ll be going with a question my writer friend Derek posed to me – “Where did your interest in history spring from?”
If you know me at all, you know that I am very interested in history. Mostly American history, which being from America sounds natural. But, really – it’s because for the past few years I’ve been doing research for a Civil War – era steampunk story, and more recently a story set during the American Revolution. I watch 18th century cooking shows on YouTube (Seriously, you need to check out Jas. Townsend & Son because they have got that down to a science. I love all their videos). I constantly watch documentaries on the American Civil War, or the War For Independence. I have become somewhat of a collector of books regarding both these subjects. I’ve been to numerous American battlefields, including Antietam in Sharpsburg, Maryland – and Bunker Hill in Boston, Mass. I’ve been involved with re-enactors and re-enactments of both the Civil and Revolutionary wars. And I’m a huge fan of almost any pop culture media featuring either of those two battles, including movies like The Patriot, or television shows like Turn: Washington’s Spies, or video games like Assassin’s Creed III, or comic books like Rebels. You get the idea.
In addition to being apparently obsessed with our nation’s two civil wars, and the time periods in which they occurred – I am also interested in history in general. Other countries, other time periods. But what’s interesting to note is that I used to HATE history. Not history in and of itself – but history as taught in school.
As far back as I can remember, history was always one of my most hated subjects. As a child, I remember just being constantly inundated with fact after fact after fact, some of which would be revised as the years went on because historians and scholars would dig up new facts. On top of that, we had to learn about acts of congress and certain bills of law and the history of states and countries not our own. And endless dates and names. How do you expect a young kid to want to digest all that information at an accelerated rate? In high school, one of my history teachers was nice but he had the most boring voice, and boring class room, and when he talked – as he droned on and on, a little ball of spittle would form on his lower lip and stretch in a band to his top lip. Focusing on that, and his monotone voice, and the warm, dry air in the class room would make me constantly want to fall asleep.
So, mostly – the institution of school is what made me originally disinterested in history. But I found history on my own, seeking out people who are excited about it, who do re-enactments or who publish blogs about it online. Going to the actual location where the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill happened is a lot different than hearing someone with a monotonous voice drone on and on about it. When I read about it in school textbooks, I wanted to fall asleep. But when I stood there, next to the statue of William Prescott on Bunker Hill – I cried.
So, what made me transition from a history hater to a history buff? It was the details. Seeing and walking in the old houses people used to live in. Reading old letters, with real human emotion and concerns. Seeing physical objects actually owned by real live people, in person, with my own eyes. Walking the fields where hundreds or thousands died. Seeing historians try to re-live the past through re-enactments and historical demonstrations. All that is infinitely more interesting than reading about the bullet points of each year in history, or lists of accomplishments by various historical figures with no real personal context or interest.
So if you think you might be interested in history, try being in the actual physical realm of these places and people who are long since passed. It worked for me, and I’m sure a lot of other people as well. History can be fun, and with it – you can grasp your own identity and place in history that much easier.