Rewriting history is in fashion. And I want to be as fashionable as anyone else. Therefore, this long article as I revise what I know about History. I’ve taken the chance that you will find it more interesting than your history that is under revision!
We all know that everything we use – people, places, and things, have a history of how they came about, and we are compelled to study it at school. Some or the other version of it. Because history like the truth, has at least four shades of grey if not fifty! Thanks be to some, if not all, there are no history lessons at college or thereafter until it’s time for politics! Or if you are an ardent student or compelled teacher of it!
History is a subject that 90% of students love to hate; for a variety of reasons: it’s boring, and it’s irrelevant in their lives, now and forever; it’s all about dead people and things – some people who lived in his time may have been glad when a historical character died, but their views were not recorded; and finally, it’s all about who said and did what to whom, where when and why! And largely you’ve got to remember all of it if you want to become a scientist or a bureaucrat or politician alike! And that’s tough especially when you don’t care who did what to whom, where, when and why so long as they didn’t do or say it to you!
While the rest of the W’s are easily memorized – easily, means notes and revisions are included – the why is difficult. It should actually be easy because it’s the simplest of all W’s in history to answer and is common across it. The answer to why is, Power and Money!
Unfortunately, the why is cloaked in unnecessarily complex language that tries to explain or befuddle, as the case may be, land and gold grabs, religious, social, and financial exploitation, the concept of divinity and right through dynasties, war, and the spoils of war, castles and palaces, social isolation, and the like through the eyes of benevolence or violence by those who did not witness or experience any of it. Sometimes based on memoirs, sometimes on artefacts, sometimes on inscriptions, sometimes on legacy infrastructure and sometimes on all of these. Just as a Judge interprets the law, a historian interprets the past, even as others write tomes on that interpretation. There’s a whole industry to explain away the greed for Power and Money!
As history repeats, new words are coined to explain it so that the scramble for power and money is acceptable. Largely it is, because everyone aspires to be in pole position in this race. This explanation can vary from self-nominated political/social leader to self-nominated political / social leader, from teacher to teacher, from student to student, from historian to historian, and even from nation to nation. But a student must know and memorize all of it – whatever version he is fed until he is fed up! Later on, he will develop his own! Then his revision will be your problem!
The problem with history perhaps is that it is his story, but you tell it, and the way you want to tell it! to suit your perspective. Nothing wrong with that, until someone else comes along with his own! only the teacher has to develop notes afresh and that’s anathema to him / her! This variation is the key to conflict in the modern world which then becomes the fodder for history for the future. It’s a different type of fodder scam!
We all yearn for the days of yore. Some even want to restore the golden age – or was it the golden cage? – not really knowing what it is. It sounds really good though. It’s the time when Kings had all the gold, as also the people to carry it around without complaining! Nothing has changed really. Kings still have the gold, but the people, ah that’s a different matter – they want their share… of history! But history does try to tell us differently in a way that we can believe it – in the golden age, the king had a heart of gold! It was the people who were plotting to grab it! Nothing has changed, has it?
Let me give an example. For some the golden age of cricket was when batsmen faced upto fearsome fast bowling fearlessly without a helmet. Today they wear a helmet to face fast bowling that is slower than that of yore! Those not playing the game, yearn for that era! They want to be alive in the present but live in the past which they say has great relevance to our current situation – especially with the coal shortage – and our future! Does it? I’m not sure how a rotary telephone can dial in the present or dial up the future.
Or how conflicts of the past can bring peace to the present. Thinking about them historical wrongs, makes you want to correct them, right? because maybe you are in a position to do so. So, its conflict time again! As the conflict balloons, they say they are correcting historical wrongs, feel righteous about it and indeed write home about it! That’s how history is created, written and revised! It’s how the Wise of the present tighten their vise around the past! Indeed, the power of history is the history of Power! The relevance stems perhaps from our desire to repeat it like Putin, who wants to repeat the era of Peter the Great with himself starring as Peter. By the way who said Peter was great? He himself or his acolytes? His name was actually Pyotr Alekséyevich!
Check out this extract From the Wikipedia!
“The imperial title of Peter the Great was the following:
By the grace of God, the most excellent and great sovereign emperor Pyotr Alekseevich the ruler of all the Russias: of Moscow, of Kyiv, of Vladimir, of Novgorod, Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan and Tsar of Siberia, sovereign of Pskov, great prince of Smolensk, of Tver, of Yugorsk, of Perm, of Vyatka, of Bulgaria and others, sovereign and great prince of the Novgorod Lower lands, of Chernigov, of Ryazan, of Rostov, of Yaroslavl, of Belozersk, of Udora, of Kondia and the sovereign of all the northern lands, and the sovereign of the Iverian lands, of the Kartlian and Georgian Kings, of the Kabardin lands, of the Circassian and Mountain princes and many other states and lands western and eastern here and there and the successor and sovereign and ruler.”
Indeed, the power of history is the history of Power!
History is boring!
One of the reasons that History as a subject is boring is that Historians are alive but the people, and the things they conduct an inquiry (Historia) into, are as dead as dodos and maybe that’s for the good of mankind; otherwise, we would not be able to worship and spend money on photographs or statutes, would we? It’s a key benefit.
The other one is that we get to read, see, and interpret all that they did and said, the way we want to, or the way our experiences help us to. They are not around to dispute it. It’s like an ex-parte domestic inquiry report!
After all we know what our parents and grandparents did, when and where, but not why, unless they have put it down in their memoirs. And those too are open to interpretation like the diaries investigative agencies seize during raids. Because only one of them may have written the memoir, not the other, but he or she appears in it! That’s when the historians step in and step up to help us decode everything they wrote or did; to tell us his-story. They will make it their story if they are allowed to! Obituaries and Eulogies are the best example. Hated, or at most suffered in Life but revered in death!
History is about the dead!
History indeed is about dead people and the things they – or is it we – consider their legacy, – money, gold, monuments, art, infrastructure. We either eulogise them or blame them for our present. But it was their present to us, and we should perhaps accept it with grace and move on. But no. Historians tell us that is not the way forward. we must go backward in time to understand what they did, why and how. The Hollywood movie night at the museum is an eye opener – Do watch it and its two sequels if you get the opportunity. Truly engrossing and hilarious like all attempts to dig up or change our past!
Students of history, and all of us compelled to be one by our school syllabus, know by rote, that history is divided into five different ages or stages: Prehistory, Ancient History, the Middle Ages, the Modern Age and the Contemporary Age.
Prehistory extended from the time the first human beings appeared until the invention of writing and came about through Grandma’s bedtime stories. Ancient history extended from the invention of writing until the fall of the Roman Empire. Those who wrote it, were privileged to do so, and wrote it from their own perspective. Not many could read then or dispute it!
The Middle Ages extended from the fall of the Roman Empire until the discovery of the Americas, and we all know what happened after the discovery – the history of the native Red-Indians was wiped out!
The modern age extended from the discovery of the Americas until the French Revolution. That’s the time we became civilized!
The contemporary age extends from the French Revolution until now! Who knows what future generations will term this age as? Revisionist?
From Grandma’s stories to excavations of artefacts and inscriptions, history is the story of those who have undertaken a journey. Their journey. It doesn’t help us map our future in any way. We have google maps and rockets and missiles and TV Debates. What’s done is done, what’s past is past. You can’t go back to the stone grinder after using the mixie can you? Some would want us to, but they will not put their hands to the till! In the till sure, but not to it!
We drive modern cars with cameras and stuff but are asked look in the rear-view mirror for guidance on the road ahead. Accidents are bound to happen unless we shift our focus to the windshield!
Its only when we unwrap the present, can we find the gift of the future! That and the fact, that our students and teachers can rest easy, and in peace, and I mean that in best way possible!
I have thoroughly revised all that I know about history, now it’s your turn! There’s time until next week!
This Article is written in the lighter vein with tongue-in-cheek. It hopes to bring a smile to your face, and you must not ascribe motives to its contents. There is no connection to events and characters in real life and if perchance you find a connect with any such real-life event or character, rest assured its purely coincidental or just a mirage!
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash