When I was little, I told people: “I love history.” It was my favorite subject in school (closely followed by grammar and writing), and I missed no opportunity to tell people about my passion for the past.
Today is Valentine’s Day, and I find myself contemplating the word and meaning of love. So…can we truly LOVE history? Do I still LOVE history?
Short answer: Yes, but…
I love the adventure of research, the thrill of the hunt for facts, the puzzle of putting facts together to get more accurate interpretations. I appreciate aspects of the past that are inspiring. So, yes, in some ways, I still love history.
However, my love is no longer blind. There are some ugly parts of the past and I don’t love wading through the muck to do justice to the people who created or endured that darkness. There have been times when I had to close the book, archive photograph, or internet tab and walk away because I’ve found out things that rocked everything I thought I knew and “loved” about history. Or I got angry at the deception in interpretation. If I didn’t love something about history, I think I would have walked away by now.
Because I don’t love learning about how soldiers died. I hate learning about the slave trade that destroyed families and allowed the idea that human beings were property. I cringe at the lies that have been told about the past as a cover-up for humanity to “feel better” about itself instead of confronting the problems head-on.
But I keep coming back. I keep trying to understand what happened in the past and how we have related to (or intentionally ignored) the facts of history in ways to somehow make ourselves “feel better” and still be able to say “we love history.”
Maybe “I love history” isn’t the right phrase for me anymore. Do I? Most people that know me would probably say yes, but I’m finding that the phrase grates on me when I hear it. Just brainstorming here, but maybe I feel more comfortable with the phrase, “I am committed to finding out the truth about the past to the best of my ability.” Arguably, that might be a form of “love” for the subject, but it takes away the undefined depth and meaning implied in the “I love history” phrase.
Don’t worry! I’m not judging anyone who says they love history, but I might ask in a friendly conversation WHY you love history. I’m still thinking through the semantics of the phrase and am curious about how others define their “love for the past” and why.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
2 thoughts on “Can We Love History?”
I think it is worth considering how we phrase the study of history or the enjoyment of history. Being an amateur in the field my views may be different than historians, but I have heard Gary Gallagher mention multiple times that any serious look at our nation’s history should at times make us uncomfortable. That has stuck with me and is very appropriate. If I think of other professions I would expect that there are medical doctors that love their job, but certainly they are not going to love it when they lose a patient. But the value they obtain by helping people can outweigh those negatives. Similarly by learning about history and sharing that knowledge it can provide more value than any discomfort that is experienced along the way.
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Good point! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Hmm… I’ll take a look at the second link. Sorry about that.