Why I Like History

For those who do not know, I am a double major on my undergraduate degree (whatever that even means these days).  I doubled in Computer Science and History.  This usually illicits an odd response from many people, the most common first utterings out of someone’s mouth usually being, “That’s… an interesting combination.  What do they have to do with each other?”  Trying to reconcile the two differences has always been a difficult task, especially when I choose to delve deeper and explain to my parterner in conversation that not only am I a Computer Science and History double major, but my focuses were in Robotics/Aritifical Intelligence programming, and the social history of medievel peasants.  Many people politely excuse themselves at this point.  I kid you not.

Growing up, I was always confused by the class Social Studies in public school, and even more confused when there was the movement to make it called Social Sciences.  Zach, Kelly, Screech and AC Slater never went to Social Studies or Social Sciences class in Saved By The Bell .  My parents never went to Social Studies class.  It was always History.  I thought, maybe it was an attempt to jazz up what is perceived as a boring subject (which it most certainly is not; I am certain the only other class that covers as much weaponry as History is when you go over ballistics and trajectories in Physics), an attempt to trick kids into learning about their pasts.  Combine that with a continuing dilution of the importances of dates and general chronology in the modern History education, and I still feel that people are out to kill this great subject.

This still does not reconcile the two halves of my brain, and some people would say there is no need, the left and right halves being seperate in their individual controls over certain functions of the body. But I would sit and wonder, if History and Computer Science are different halves, wouldn’t I be a better artist?  I am not.  I am a terrible artist.  My musicianship would be torn apart by the most rank of amateurs.  I have zero ability with ink or pencil.  And don’t even pretend to give me a paint brush.  I was so embarassed by my lack of painting skills that I would give my models to Luke to paint!

There had to be a connection, and it’s been staring me in the face the whole time, and I don’t believe it’s the fact that I am in Kenya that has allowed me this occasion into common sensehood, but rather simply the copious free time to think I have here.

I like facts, I like logic, I like science.  Computer Science is a great way for one to apply facts and logic and scientific rationale and bring such things into the realm of practicality and creation.  My robots would not always do the right thing, but they were always acting in what they felt was logical.  They were making order of their world (while at the same time deconstructing my own with their spinning rotors…); they were simply following their programming, however erroneously it may be.  In short, there was a reason why my robots were doing what they were doing.

To me, History is the search for the reason behind human action.  I am a firm believer in the nature vs. nurture argument, and the important roles both environment and the actions of other human beings play in our lives.  History is what we have been able to record of the actions of human beings.  I am not saying it is perfect.  I also fully agree with the notion that at the moment, for the most part, what is perceived as the, “History of the World,” is really a history of the, “Rich White Man.”

My social history classes however have taught me that the information is in fact there to begin to shift our perception away from that of the “Rich White Man’s,” history to one where the “common man,” has more of a voice and impact.  Does it mean the facts of History will shift?  Not necessarily, but it may mean that the masses have had just as much an impact over time as those brief moments of historical disruption usually following a major invention or battle.

Why do I love History?  It’s not because some bizarre half of my brain has decided to disagree with the other half.  No, the two are reconciled nicely in my own perception of the matter.  I perceive History to be a potential source of facts and reasons for why humans act the way they do.  Just as the physicist cannot deny the facts of gravity, nor can I deny the facts of History and that where I am in life is because people long before me made decisions and took action, and have decided to even record some of it for future analysis (knowingly or not).

“Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”  I don’t like that thought.  Instead, let’s say that those who study History are doomed to know it.  Simply knowing Hisotry does not mean one will choose different actions or make different decisions, but it may help us know why we are choosing our actions in the first place. The other edge to that sword is that knowing will hold our future selves more accountable to our actions: “If you knew this atrocity has happened before, why did you choose to do it again?!”

I can appreciate the term Social Sciences a bit more.  But honestly, what is wong with the term History?  Is it really that stigmatized?  Are we really so afraid of knowing why we have become such accomplished monsters?  What about why we have becomes such accoomplished artists?  Lovers? Creators?  I’ll let the sociologists handle that one.  I’d much rather just deal with the facts.

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