Click. Flash. The camera snaps, the headline in the papers blare, history is in the making. We live history every day. We breathe it in the morning air and see it on the news. That which once seemed trivial is now a leading story, and we watched it build. From the Middle East, to the Olympics, the environment and everything in between; we see our world hurtle towards a different and hopefully better place. It is engaging and exciting, the intrigue of events all around us.
The smell of chalk, lines of lockers, and the drown of a teacher’s voice. You’re in high school, and your social studies teacher is explaining something. Dates and names whirl in the air as the class slumbers through another lecture form the dusty pages of a textbook written to educate, not necessarily engage.
What happened? Where along the line did the spark that is current events slump into the doldrum that history too often becomes? Flipping through the pages of my textbook I found the answer. History can be: “In 1939 Britain declared war on Germany this triggered a great change for the populous of both countries…” Let’s roll that back, imagine the moment; the people sitting at their radios listening as their fate was decided. The whole world was altering, the young boys who knew they would be leaving, the families not sure what tomorrow would bring.
Somehow we have lost the people somewhere between the dates and the major event’s ‘key ideas.’ The study of history should be first and foremost a study of people. What happened to them, how did the lives of the average person change?
It smells of tea and biscuits as my Grandmother explains life in the Depression. She talks about the horses hitched to cars and the men riding the rails. We flip through old photos of her life, the grainy black and white images that speak a thousand words. I listen enthralled as she puts faces to event I thought I had understood. Through her, I could live what she had seen and done. It brought the past into our modern living room, brushing the television aside in favour of portal to the world she had known as a child.
This is what history is, or what is should be. It doesn’t have to come from a textbook or be written down in any encyclopedia. The stories of your family, the moments on the news, events you witnessed and will someday tell your grand children about. This is history; it is a story of us, of humanity. It tells of our failings and triumphs. Next time you come across a piece of history look past the lines of text and dates, find the people. Their story is what count. Who knows, you might find your own answers in their struggles. A kindred spirit from the past.