Little Bits of History

What is History?

What exactly do I mean by Little Bits of History? First, let’s examine the word “history.” According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary it is “the branch of knowledge dealing with past events.” That’s pretty sweeping.

Harvard University has an entire History Department with 53 regular faculty and close to 200 individual history courses. They offer classes to both undergraduate and graduate students and there are actual Doctors of History. There are lecture classes, seminars, and conference courses offered at the prestigious school. There are ancient history classes as well as more recent and regional classes for portions of the earth. Core courses deal primarily with wars.

All this seems daunting. But it isn’t. Really. We all have a history. What happened to us as children is our history. We carry the stories of our youth into our old age and miraculously, those stories can change with the passage of time. We are not always accurate historians even of our history.

That means that many of the things that we “know” about history may be just a little teeny tiny bit off. What we assume, from our position in the 21st century may be just a little teeny tiny bit skewed. How we live today is decidedly not the way our ancestors lived.

There is also a lot of history to cover. The history of mankind covers tens of thousands of years while the history of the entire world covers millions of years and the history of the universe goes back to the beginnings of eternity.

It is not surprising, then, that our standard education in grade school and high school along with college classes if we are fortunate enough to have been able to attend college, do not cover all of history. They can’t. They shouldn’t.

Long ago I was told that information comes in three forms: 1) need to know; 2) nice to know; and 3) nuts to know. We need to know that far-reaching changes across the globe have been happening since time immemorial and are often brought about during acts of war. War, conquering, and questing after new lands have been focal points for classroom history lore.

But that only covers the first kind of information. There are two more types of knowledge or facts or even legends that make history the fun and interesting landscape of discovery and amazing awe.

How simple is it to light a candle today. But when were matches invented? How easy it is to pencil in a date on a calendar and then erase it when we change our plans. But when were erasers added to pencils? When do you suppose the table setting we all know and love came into use?

Some items in history are so astounding that they are talked about in history classes and they can’t be ignored. But each large story is made up smaller pieces. The great wars are large chunks of history lasting years. These huge events are made up of smaller bits. Battles won or lost, men and even in history’s dim past there were women who made a decided difference in the way the world continued on. These are the interesting pieces of history that give the tapestry woven by time the beautiful and rich color. These are the things that make history worthwhile.

Yes, we should be able to learn lessons from history. However, we are voyeurs. We know that because we watch “reality TV” and we love seeing what goes on behind the scenes.

Little bits of history are the small, sometimes inconsequential, often lost or mostly ignored, and usually surrounded by a hardy “hmmm” stories. We all have a history. Little stories about the past. Interesting stuff!

2 Responses

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  1. Fred said, on April 9, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Hi Patricia, I like your niche & the choice you made to observe the little things that oftentimes are simply invisible as the “background noise”… What amazes me, studying History is how fast man forgets how life was at that moment in time.
    For example, some archaeologists found 70,000 beads in Florida & estimated them to be 400 years old – from that he inferred that they were used or international trade & from their origin, that China, Spain and France traded goods at that place… How is it possible that 400 years has erased our memory?

    New things appear and soon become part of the landscape, as if they had always been there. Here is a little piece that you will like and because I have nowhere else to place it, I’ll leave it there for you:
    Did you know that the expression putting things on the right track, or back on track, only appeared after the invention of the train?

    With this, good blogging & 31DBBB2009


  2. patriciahysell said, on April 11, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Thanks, I’ve enjoyed the writing process for these essay and learned so much as I’ve moved forward. Daily updates are coming.

    We learn about the big picture in school, but the small background stories contain so much more color. Each little tidbit adds to the rich tapestry we call “history.”

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