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Tell me a story

I am told that when my husband was a child, he used to study and memorize all the specifications data of military aircraft. He loved the numbers. As we raised our children, he and the three boys loved to sit at the dinner table and discuss military strategy. They would replay and analyze great battles from ancient wars through more modern conflicts. My daughter and I listened politely, but we did not have the same love of military history. In fact, I have always struggled to learn history of any kind. I can recall the tiniest minutiae of the life sciences, but names, dates, and random events do not stick in my brain.

However, I am discovering that the problem is most of my formal education in history has been taught as a time line. I don't want a time line. I want a story. When I was in high school, if they had shown me Downton Abbey and then explained all the historical details surrounding the story, I would have devoured history. Tell me about the political strife that triggered the riot where Sybil was injured. Tell me about the conflict between Ireland and England that embroiled Tom Branson.  Last night I watched the first episode of The Bletchley Circle on PBS and found myself drawn to the story of the Bletchley Park code breakers and the role they played in World War II.

What I like is reading a good story and learning about the historical context surrounding it. This is different than reading historical fiction. The problem with much historical fiction is that is sometimes difficult to distinguish where the history ends and the fiction begins.

When I was about thirteen the women's rights movement was gaining traction. I was incensed that anyone would suggest that I could not have a profession because I was female. I decided right then and there I would be a lawyer or a doctor. Someone told me that to be a lawyer I would have to study history. That made my decision. I would became a doctor. Such is the thinking of a thirteen-year-old.  I certainly do not regret my decision to become a physician. But I no longer run away from the subject of history. I just look for the story.


Heide said…
Denise, your opening sentence, "I am told that when my husband was a child, he used to study and memorize all the specifications data of military aircraft," could have been written by me. Bernie has been nuts on the subject since he was a toddler, probably.

I know what you mean about the study of history. The truth is that most historians don't know how to write a good story, although there are some happy exceptions. And the discipline itself has been co-opted by every political cause there is. Fortunately, I managed to avoid having to take any class as inane as "Women's History" or the like. If I had I might have had to change majors.

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