Monday, November 13, 2006

A nice mixture of sweet and sour

Who could not feel a bit misty eyed while reading Rosenzweg and Thelen's The Past as Presence? I couldn't help but think of my grandfather and his stories, and wonder if we all had some relative that got us interested , even a little, in history. However, in trying to become a "professional historian," I have frequently found the need to downplay those personal involvements. So we attempt to study other facets of the past, but we secretly have a box or two of letters, pictures, etc. that we mean to digitize, label, index, and send off to other relatives. My biggest problem with "everyman as his own Historian" lies in the concept of self-interest. The one factor almost every story in R & T's survey dealt with a special interest each subject had in a certain part of history. I think the main difference between an enthusiast's scope of knowledge vs. a professional's is that a professional does not necessarily get to stop researching a subject if they do not like the answer, or they may not be so interested in the period. Professionals ask more questions, while enthusiasts stick with the easiest answers. I have plenty of friends-you probably have some too, who KNOW everything there is to know about WW II. Except what they really know is an impressive set of dates, names, tactics, technologies, and places--but they haven't a clue why these came to pass. Because it is not sexy to learn about the failures of the Wiemar Republic or the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere. History takes a lot of hard, dusty work in places most folks do not want to wander. And I am not just talking about archives. History takes those quiet moments of contemplation (in the shower is my favorite) when the uninterrupted mind moves those pieces around until they fit. Even the ugly, nasty pieces that haven't worked anywhere else. Part two of this rant will continue in the morning, when my brain is less fuzzy.

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