Stories. As a species, we have consistently demonstrated a love for stories. They bring us reflection, resonance, and comfort. Stories are time machines and highways to tomorrow but also, they are -or can be- the cement that binds the disparate parts of today.
More than simple entertainment, stories represent our hopes, fears, passions but perhaps above all, a way to understand our existential questions. Most of our answers or theoretical musings in stories come from a historical context; where we were may provide a point of view to understand where we are.
Ironically, our answers to vexing questions are part of a subject that isn’t popular. History. Many of us go green in the face when some rare person waxes poetic about the joys and virtues of history. What do you suppose is behind this almost universal apathy toward something possessing so much value?
Could history lack – of all things – relevance? Are the volumes of addressable history just dry as dust, duller than a bland recitation of facts and figures? Are the uncounted significant events in Human history just too remote in time to be meaningful to the average person alive today?
If the above is so, how does historical “stuff” figure so prominently in stories? A person wiser than I once told me any fact or condition of a historical nature must be absolutely relevant to the person trying to absorb it. To be otherwise a historical fact becomes nothing but a desiccated footnote in a book they will never read.
How then to relate history so that it becomes alive with relevance? Clearly, textbooks in school are not the answer and likely the chief reason for the great snore in history class. Perhaps history must not only be relevant but resonate personally, perhaps answer questions and solve problems before it is perceived as generally useful if not valuable.
There must be a human connection beyond the academic and esoteric lecture or the ponderous book. We can’t speak at length about the engineering marvel of Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England without anchoring the story in the lives of the Romans who lived there. When we speak of the garbage pits filled with worn-out socks and then find letters home asking for more socks, we put a most human context on the story of Hadrian’s Wall.
What soldier hasn’t known a period where his clothes had become worn and the weather wicked? This then is the linchpin between dry academic recitation and a contemporary human: meaningful impactful history that makes sense to modern daily life.
History applied in stories can resonate with our lives by giving knowledge that makes today better. There is much in the past of use in the present, but it’s up to all of us to relate it to the present. Know any good stories?