At the same time the news featured an eighteen year old American scientist who had discovered a diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer. His mantra was, ‘Science is using your curiosity to change the world.’ Undoubtedly this is true in his case and he deserves every credit. When I explain what I study, I often feel that others think it is self-indulgent and that it does not contribute to the greater good. I am not suggesting history is more important than medical research but I maintain that, in some ways, it is as important. More and more studies are suggesting that an understanding of the past is crucial to our well-being in the present. American research, by Dr Marshall Duke, investigating children’s resiliency and ability to deal with stress, discovered that children who knew more about their families:-
- Tended to do better than other children when they faced challenges.
- Proved to be more resilient and able to moderate the effects of stress.
- Had a stronger sense of control over their lives.
- Had higher self-esteem.
- Believed that their family functioned successfully.
- Felt that they belonged to something larger than themselves.
History is about using the past to inform the present and the future. It can hone analytical skills and teach people to question but it can also engender a sense of belonging, to a family or a to community. An awareness of a shared past creates unity in the present. In the dim and distant past (well ten years ago), when I had a history classroom, I had history related quotations depicted in coloured speech bubbles around the wall and these now head and foot pages on my website. Perhaps the most telling of these is George Santayana’s on the home page ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fullfil it’. Sadly many are not learning from the past and many never will but I for one have the vision to think we could try and encourage people not to repeat so many past mistakes.
So yes, it matters but how do we spread the word? As my passion (far to far gone to call this merely a hobby) and what passes for my job overlap, I either work 150 hours a week, or I do nothing but enjoy myself! We can introduce others to history in a more moderate way. A bit like faith, we can take history out with us and introduce it to those with whom we come into contact. Not, I hasten to add, in a pushy overbearing way (that doesn’t work for religion either!) but gently, without people even realising that what they are doing is engaging in history. I wrote about this for the British Association for Local History’s newsletter. This blog post is already long enough, so I won’t repeat it all here now but there are many inventive ways in which this can be done; if you watch this space I may be inspired to feature some here. I am particularly focussed on engaging young people with history and heritage. Some of my descendants are on their way to visit (excited face) so I have the opportunity to put this into practice. Yes, I am talking about two year olds and yes it is possible.
I know you will say ‘I don’t have the time’ or ‘My friends and neighbours don’t have the time’. Originally this post was entitled ‘Making Time for History and why this Matters’ but I have spent so long on why it matters that I haven’t made time to address how to make time in our busy lives. Another day, another blog post - I promise.