how did we get here?

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Thursday in class one of my favourite Professors was talking about how she ended up a medieval historian. I had heard the story before, so i was able to daydream a bit. Most medieval historians first got interested from reading an historical novel or watching a movie. Braveheart was very popular for the current generation of undergraduates. I realized, however, that i am an anomalie. I started off wanting to pursue the history of WWI. I really liked military history and diplomacy. The more work i did, however, the more i realized there was no way i was going to ever reach a definitive answer to any “why” questions. The sources were too numerous, the consequences to daunting, the past too close. I got interested in things further and further in the past. I got interested in aspects of history that aren’t as easily traceable…culture and other social phenomenon – like deviancy, gender, family dynamics and conceptions of what it is to be human. I ended up in the late medieval/early modern period. I find it a very troubling period…so alien, yet so similar. I find myself questioning my own existence and its worth more often than i do my choice of field of study. I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing. I still don’t have an answer to the why questions, but i don’t vacillate on interpretations the way i used to. I recognize the good points in the interpretations of others, but i am not convinced to change sides of the debate every twenty minutes as i did while working on the build up to WWI. I like that even though i don’t have an answer for you – i do have an answer for me. I know which factors I think were most important and can defend them. I didn’t have even this certainty in anything with regards to the twentieth century.
So, all that to say, there was no definitive moment that brought me to the goal i am now reaching for. Was there one for you? Or was your progress as round-about as mine? Could you see yourself doing something radically different? I know that whatever i ever thought about as a career choice, it involved lots of reading.

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2 thoughts on “how did we get here?

  1. I’ll have an answer to your question later but for now I have a question for you. I understand how the sources being too numerous or the consequences being too daunting will hinder finding an answer to “why” questions but I don’t understand how the past being too close can hurt. You know I’m no historian so maybe you can explain to me why I’m wrong but it seems to me that the further away we get from an event the less it is understandable. Important sources being lost and the face that there are vast cultural gaps between now and long ago come to mind.

    I do see one reason why it might be easier though. Emotional detachment. The world wars (stories that interest me a lot as well but that I don’t have enough time to research much) still resonate strongly in society so that colours the research published. I don’t think this alone is enough to overcome the other two reasons I mentioned though, is it?

  2. Weird, the way you talk about it, it seems to me that you’re in HIST 338 with McSheffrey…and I’m in that class too. Maybe I just didn’t recognized you, as I did never say you before Live 😛

    Anyway, back to your post. When I decided that I would go at university to do an history degree, I wanted to take classes in the Ancient Era, the Antiquity, the Greek and Roman empires, the Ancient Egyptian kingdom, etc…But, as I started taking my classes, I realized that Greek and Roman history classes, while being interesting, were not what I wanted to do – or at least try to do – later in my life as an historian. Digging the ground for vases, pottery, artsy stuffs, and determining their origins, their times and their purposes…I didn’t see myself doing just that. The Ancient Times, except the Ancient Egyptians, didn’t left a lot of inscriptions or texts to talk about themselves, their ways and customs, their lifestyles, their politics and economy…A lot of their world is just lost to us, and we may never learn more. We can just speculate about a shabby past, a shadowy one, and try to understand it with the tiny bits of informations we gain through time. I wanted to work on some more tangible stuffs, and closer to our time, too.
    And also, the classics courses are a lot harder, so an A is much harder to get. And there isn’t Ancient Egyptian classes in any university in Montreal! (Last time I checked).

    So, after a while, I decided to take two classes that would change my path in the history domain and make me want to specialize in those fields: The Arab and the Indian history. When I started the classes, I knew almost nothing, if not the common knowledge that everyone has about those two civilizations, and the misconceptions about them too. As we advanced in the semester, the classes were getting a bit more interesting to me: it was a totally new world opening to me, and my thirst for knowledge was demanding for more. I wanted to understand more of those civilizations. The countries in these two nations are in what we know to be the cradle of civilization. So, I continued taking more classes in those two fields, enjoying my time at Concordia and learning about the history, the culture, the politics, etc…I also now have a better understanding of some situations and conflicts in these parts of the world, and I am happy that I can better understand the other half of the planet. 😛

    Of course, if ever I have a chance, I might try to find a place where I could get some Ancient Egyptian courses, as it is what I wanted to be since my childhood…but for now, these two fields are contenting me and I really do like it. It will do for now.

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