Ever since I was a child I have been strongly fascinated by history. Not really in an outspoken kind of way, but in a “my-brother-is-obsessed-by-history-and-I’m-secretly-stealing-his-history-books-from-his-room” kind of way. (He never knew until now, if he’s reading this. #sorrynotsorry) It was my guilty pleasure: stealing the books and teleporting myself to times long gone. You probably wonder why. It’s quite simple: to me, history is the one thing that comes closest to magic.
I have always felt like there’s some sort of unknown, ancient magic to the past. Doesn’t it simply feel surreal to know that thousands of years ago, at the very place you’re reading this blogpost right now, something completely different was going on? Maybe it was pure, rough nature – or maybe an ancient culture was building its way up to become a completely different civilization from what it was before. Can you even imagine that those dusty, stony objects in museums have been made by real humans like you and me thousands of years ago? If you really try to imagine what life must have been like back then, can’t you feel the magic? People have lived here, people have loved here, and now, even though they’re all gone, their presence still lingers – how is that anything less than magical?
Even though historical science has figured out a lot already, so many stories are left untold, so many problems are left unsolved. But can we really “solve” history? People have, for example, always talked about war from the perspective of the politicians, or from the perspectives of whatever people were in power at that time. From the Spartans to the Nazis, it has never been different. But what about the people? What about the broken families, what about the traumatized veterans? There will always be a part left unknown, undiscovered. And it’s exactly that undiscovered part, that personal part of history, that adds to the magical atmosphere it has to me.
“You’re confusing mystery with magic.” Maybe I am, but in the end, what are mystery and magic but a nuance of each other? There’s no magic without mystery, and no mystery without magic. Even if we ever figure out all the pieces of the history-puzzle, they will never fit together perfectly: there will always be things that we do not know, because we were never there. All we have is what they left behind: their art, their books, their everyday-objects. But we will never have their words, we will never have their thoughts, and consequently, we will never have the full picture of who they were. So yes, you’re right, I could be confusing mystery with magic. But let me ask you this: are they really mutually exclusive?
People often ask what the purpose of studying history is. The answer I should probably give is that it helps us to understand society as it is today, and it helps us develop science in general. My real answer, however, is that it doesn’t need a purpose: the magic of history is that it is there, regardless of it’s usefulness.
- L. Parole