Other historical obsessions

  1. sknox

    sknox Member and remember

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    OK, I'll add another possible perspective here. There is a huge divide between industrial (and post-industrial, however you may care to define that) and pre-industrial society. Just about every aspect of life, from the business of governing all the way down to raising families, was different in significant ways.

    The two world wars come to us from a society more or less like our own: industrialized. It is simply easier to grasp. That's why people also love the Roaring 20s, the Cold War, and even the Civil War (though that sits on the cusp).

    Push back into the 18thc, though, into earlier times, and coming to grips with the past is much more difficult. This is one major reason why we find medieval and ancient topics both oversimplified and stereotyped, with myths persisting despite the best efforts of whole generations of historians. The fall of Rome (clearly an event), barbarian invasions, the Dark Ages, chivalry, the omnipotent Catholic Church, the list is longer than Edward I's left leg, and each entry a century or more old. There are other reasons, of course, but these myths simplify the past by casting it in terms we moderns readily grasp: it's all about money, power corrupts, history is written by the winners, and so on.

    It would be interesting to look at the Top Six Historical Obsessions of, say, Sri Lanka or Nigeria or Uruguay. I've long wondered if, say, Japanese students have a "western civ" course and, if so, how it's taught. The teaching of history is often more about the present than about the past.
     
    Dec 27, 2017
    #21
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  2. Caledfwlch

    Caledfwlch I am not a Geek, I am a Level 22 Warrior!

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    It's also frustrating that some of the obsessions are not even an obsession of the right version of thing being obsessed over.

    People love Arthurian films etc yet such things are never based on the real world reality that such a person, or the real person who inspired the myths.

    I just read the plot out line to ridley Scots Tristan & Isolde. & just the synopsis makes it clear that Scott & the writer had not even had a quick scan of a history book about the time period 5/6th century - the same time period and historical reality of a real king Arthur.

    I haven't been able to watch Transformers Last Knight because of that shocking opening.
    Not just the "England during the dark ages" wrong on both counts was bad enough, but for these dark age Knights to be on medieval armour, and have trebuchet firing all over the place, was just too much!!
     
    Dec 27, 2017
    #22
  3. sknox

    sknox Member and remember

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    Agreed, Caledfwlch, but that's exactly the point. Myth is stronger than history. Nobody needs historical accuracy and nobody wants to be instructed by the past. What they want is buttressing of their existing beliefs, and the past provides an almost infinite treasure box in which one can find whatever one has already determined to find.

    It doesn't bother me. Popular perceptions of science does not prevent (though it does sometimes hinder) the work of scientists. So it is also with historians. Obsessions are not rational things.
     
    Dec 27, 2017
    #23
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  4. Dave

    Dave Wherever I Am, I'm There Staff Member

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    It isn't just a problem with the wrong technology, fashions, architecture or materials though. The problem that @sknox describes is one that most people have an incredibly difficult problem coming to terms with - namely that people didn't think at all like us - and while we can dig up artefacts and examine those, we can never have conversations with people in the past. We can read a little of what they wrote, even Egyptian hieroglyphics, which will give some insights, but there is a great tendency for non-historians to assume people always thought the same way.

    Personally, I don't understand that assumption. If you travel to countries in other parts of the world, those people have different art and cultures, myths and legends, language structures, superstitions and religions. They exist today, so to my way of thinking, it isn't that difficult to think that there was more variety in the past. In the present day, we have huge differences of opinion between rural and city cultures, or between political extremes, so how anyone can assume that people always thought like they do now is beyond me.

    I also don't think you even need to go back to the 18th Century to see some visible cultural differences. I was in a hall recently where someone was talking about the restoration of old photographs for family history purposes. When photography was still quite new, a family portrait photograph was a must for every family. When a child died, which was much more common than today, a photograph would be taken of the entire family. The dead child would also be dressed and propped up with wooden planks to be part of the family portrait. When this was told to the assembled hall that I was sitting in, there were audible gasps of horror from the other people! I'm surprised no one fainted!
     
    Dec 27, 2017
    #24
  5. svalbard

    svalbard Well-Known Member

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    ‘Myth is stronger than history’ is an interesting point. As far back as Herodotus and further back again to Homer and further back again to Gilgamesh we have struggled to separate fact from fiction.
     
    Dec 27, 2017
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  6. sknox

    sknox Member and remember

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    I'm not sure I'd push it further back than Herodotus. He is, after all, the one who gave us the word, istoria. Only with him do we get even a pretense of consulting reliable sources in order to construct an explanatory narrative (as distinct from a chronicle or story).

    Since we've mentioned Greeks, I'll share an anecdote. I'm a retired university professor. Taught Western Civ for about 35 years. When teaching ancient Greek history I naturally took time to talk about Athenian democracy, spending a fair amount of time explaining how what the Athenians meant by the word was significantly different from what we mean by the word. I felt good, dispelling a historical myth (with so many more to dispel in fifteen weeks!), watching those conscientious heads conscientiously dip downward as they wrote their conscientious notes.

    Then came exam time and *every semester* I would get student essays that observed how it wasn't really democracy because not everyone could vote and the aristocrats really (freshman essays are filled with what is real) were the ones controlling things. They continued to view the past through the lens of their own understanding.

    It took a few years for me to get over my disappointment, first in them, later in myself. For, how else is anyone to view the past, save through such a lens? I also came to understand that history is not an easy subject, for it requires us to think outside ourselves. It requires us to take the comfortable mental house in which we live and rearrange the furniture, repaint the walls, and sometimes tear out whole rooms. To say that myth is more powerful than history is nothing more than to say we are all of us only human. It is no more natural to think historically than it is to think scientifically.
     
    Dec 27, 2017
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  7. logan_run

    logan_run Well-Known Member

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    In the film liberty valence. the newspaper editor says when the myth becomes legend print the legend!
     
    Dec 28, 2017
    #27
  8. Caledfwlch

    Caledfwlch I am not a Geek, I am a Level 22 Warrior!

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    The best quotation about how easy it is to misunderstand even fairly basic things, if we have little idea as to the mindset, culture and way of thinking was by Bernard Cornwall, iirc.

    Lets say in 50 years time, some sort of global devastation occurs - natural disaster or war, but whilst humanity survives, the West, especially and all the media that could show how we think etc is, or will soon be itself destroyed, by simple natural decay, books turning to mulch, acidic rain/rivers destroying DVD/BR, HDD's and so on - any option will do, even basic simple decay over time.

    Stonehenge is 5000 years old.
    So it's 5000 years later now, pretty much all of the first half of the 21st Century and prior's architecture is likely gone.
    Civilisation has eventually recovered, and gotten more technological & advanced, till they are around our current level.
    Nothing is left of the culture etc of early 21st century Earth, even the myths have died from oral tradition, these new people know nothing about us at all, though of course, they are forever finding stuff that causes excitement along with much head scratching "what were those crazy dudes even thinking?"

    Then an Archaeological hit the Jackpot, a find that sets the world a quiver with excitement as it is so unique.
    By chance, actually looking for something else, they have discovered and began excavating what appears to be a major centre of Religious Worship - whilst they cannot yet be even remotely sure what was worshipped it is definately some sort of worship site.
    What they do not know, is they have just discovered a Catholic Church.

    It could be any Nation in what to us is Western Europe, from York Minster, to the Vatican, or Notre Dame. As long as all the text has either utterly crumpled to dust, or the languages being spoken by our descendents have so utterly altered/evolved from our own, that until much more text is discovered, or better, a Rosetta Stone is fine (I personally like the idea of a future Rosetta Stone, being the laminated or in some other way treated or inscribed test that would allow it to survive longer, copy of an incredibly boring, and inane piece of European Union Legislation, regarding the shape & dimensions legally required for Traffic Roundabouts, or Traffic Cones, and being an EU Document, it is printed in the primary 4 or 5 doing business Languages of the EU) ) :D

    Knowing nothing about us, how we thought etc it is easy really, to forgive them the conclusions they will swiftly jump to upon entering the Church and discovering its beautiful architecture and symbol.

    Clearly, their European Ancestors were seriously crazy and deranged!! They had an entire religion that upon interpretation appears to be Cannibalistic in nature, and involves the horrific torture and execution of fellow human beings, after which the Sacrifices flesh and blood are consumed/drank by the convened worshippers.

    He said it much simpler, and in much less space, but I cannot recall the specific quote! (the EU Rosetta Stone is my idea too) :p
     
    Dec 28, 2017
    #28
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