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DEMAREST: History should fascinate you

Column: Kickin' it Back with Kenji

History is a subject that seems daunting to many students, but when explored in greater detail it can prove to be rich and rewarding for all who study it. – Photo by Pxhere.com

History is my passion. I make no secret of that fact. Along with political science, it is my current area of study and the field I am pursuing a career in. That said, if you have interacted with many people in your life, you would come to believe that I am one of few. So many people I have known throughout the years tell me that they hate history. This sentiment is incredibly widespread, much to the chagrin and sadness of most history buffs throughout the world.

While I firmly believe in the philosophy of "to each their own," I would wager that most people do not truly have such a disdain for history. I am not saying that everyone I have ever met or spoken to is a liar. Rather, I am suggesting that those who claim to hate or dislike history simply have not been exposed to the history that they enjoy. One of my closest friends is a dual major in the fields of programming and physics. He is quite passionate about the subjects, especially programming. He and I are opposite in many ways. Aside from him being quite a bit taller than me, and I envious of his height, he has a very mathematical mind, suited well for science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. I, on the other hand, have always been much more drawn to the humanities.

Where he writes programs, I write essays. As he searches through source codes on GitHub, I read old books and historical documents. We are fire and ice in many ways. My friend would not, by any stretch of the word, describe himself as a "history person." In high school, we were in the same AP U.S. History class, and I could tell that he was not particularly interested in the content.

Yet, if I were to start talking about the tale of Alan Turing, whose work with encryption won World War II for the Allies and set the stage for much of modern robotics, my friend would be all ears. Though I have always had this passion, I have spent my fair share of time bored in history classes. Believe me, I get it. These classes are often poorly designed and churn out people who hate history because they have been forced through the most tedious parts of it.

In this country's education system, we are generally taught a scant selection of seemingly random historical time periods and places. For many of us, history begins in 1776 (or perhaps 1492).

My memory of middle school and high school history classes consists of years of rehashed, poorly taught American history, sprinkled with carefully curated chapters of such generalized time periods as ancient China, ancient India and ancient Greece. These terms are so broad that they cover such long time periods, with so many changes happening that it does these cultures no justice to view them in such a way.

These are all potentially interesting topics, yet in so many instances, the curriculum glosses over important and interesting details, not to mention the countless time periods and cultures which are completely excluded from the discourse.

While I was being taught about what happened in America in 1850, I vividly remember thinking to myself, "What was going on in the rest of the world in 1850? What about France, or Japan, or India or Egypt? They had to have been doing something interesting."

Do not get me wrong, this is not necessarily the fault of the teachers. Many of them are excellent at what they do, and many of them have been working to improve the standards of the courses. Yet it is an age-old problem that churns out people who are turned off to such a rich field of study, and it is a shame that they miss out due to this. When history is presented to us this way, it is easy to see it as a bland, sterile field of academic study, devoid of any element of humanity. The names attached to people mean nothing to us, and their faces are presented as either lifeless portraits, statues or pictures. In many instances, the most important and interesting people lack names, faces or both.

Yet it is important to remember that these were real people who lived lives just as rich as ours. They loved, and they hated. They ate, and they slept. They felt fear and pain and love, they gave birth and raised children. They laughed with their friends and fought with their enemies. Perhaps they fought with their friends and laughed with their enemies too!

They worked, they learned, they got better at their crafts. They grew old, and they died. This all may seem obvious to us. Humans have always done human things. Nonetheless, it is not often that we truly envision them as people, the same as your own family and friends. History is neither meant to be about tedious memorization of dates and names nor is it merely about war, economics and politics. It is about all of those other things that people concerned themselves with day-to-day. It is about the rich cultures that people have developed and the way people thought, felt and conformed to the pressures of their time and place.

It is about the very human lives that everyone led, and the stories that can be told about each and every one of them. Whatever it is you are doing now, somebody did it or tried to do it before you. Perhaps they were not as sophisticated about it or knowledgeable about it, but indeed, they were your forerunners. Their stories are truly what defines history. History is the greatest story that was ever told, and it is still being told. It will continue to be told for generations to come, and it will not end until we, the human race, end as well. It began as soon as the universe began to expand, 13.8 billion years ago, and I am sure we have quite a ways to go.

If the voyages of Christopher Columbus and the ride of Paul Revere are not quite your thing, I am sure that there is something else that might strike your fancy. There are thousands of years of stories. I implore you to go find some that you love. Kenji Demarest is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and political science and minoring in South Asian studies. His column, "Kickin' it Back with Kenji," runs on alternate Tuesdays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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