Throughout my school years, I hated the study of history. Perhaps that's not quite accurate; I remember in elementary school enjoyable units on Indians and on Early Settlers, and a large and informative project on Ethiopia. Progress after that was mostly negative, however.
A 10th grade World Cultures teacher was fairly inspiring, despite his other incarnation as a baseball coach. Other than that I'd have to say that my history teachers could hardly have done more to make the study of history dull and tedious. On top of that, I somehow picked up the idea that one was either a "math and science person" or a "history and English person," and it was not possible to be in both camps. I staked my claim squarely in the math and science camp.
It was not till well after I graduated from college that I discovered that the story of our past is vital—in the sense of being full of life, as well as in the sense of critical importance. I also learned the foolishness of limiting one's interests by someone else's categories.
I'm most definitely hindered by my lack of historical background. Dates and events are lost on me that are so ingrained in Porter he has difficulty imagining my ignorance. To be fair, I believe it was more his own interest than his school experiences that gave him that knowlege, but in any case, he has a clear historical framework into which any new information neatly fits, which makes it easier to remember. I have none of that.
But the foundation is growing, brick by brick and fact by fact, even though the required mortar seems to be many repetitions. I can live with that—I'm learning, and that makes me content.
Perhaps the greatest help in my quest into our past has been my recently-acquired hobby of genealogy. I, who had previously had no interest even in relatives beyond my immediate circle, now delight in dredging up information on even the remotest ancestor. That I have discovered some to be famous, royal, and/or historically interesting thrills me. To the best of my ability to determine, my joy is not that of snobbery; in fact, one of the reasons I eschewed any ancestor interest in the past was my annoyance at such organizations as the DAR and other people's bragging about their ancestry. I truly would rather have found Native American ancestors than Mayflower immigrants.
But now I talk about them all, myself. What excites me is having a connection to historical times, be it through my late-19th century Western Pennsylvanians, or distant kings of England.
Which brings me, at last, to the inspiration for this post.
Don't ask me why I'm reading a 1000-page book on the history of the Crusades. I'm not sure myself, except that the Christianity Today review of Christopher' Tyermans' God's War was intriguing, and the book was available at our local library. I'm currently on page 19 of the Introduction, and so far, it's fascinating. Especially when I'm struck by passages such as the following. Don't worry about understanding it, since it's completely out of context:
As a result of dynastic inheritance and a military and political victory in a long English civil war, in 1154 the situation was further complicated when Henry, count of Anjou, also duke of Normandy by inheritance from his mother and duke by marriage of Aquitane, became king of England. Henry II, the first of the Angevin (i.e. Anjou was his patrimony) kings of England, was overlord to far more of France than his supposed French sovereign Louis VII: Normandy, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, Brittany, Poitou, the douchy of Aquitaine, the Limousin, Gascony and parts of the Auvergne, with unachieved claims to parts of Languedoc.
Sounds pretty dry, right? Not if Henry II is your distant grandfather, Eleanor of Aquitaine your distant grandmother, and Maine a part of France you visited last spring, where you stood on the mount of one of Henry II's fortifications. Which just happens to be on part of the home of some friends of yours.
Connections! That's what it's all about. The more you learn, the more you know; the more you know, the easier it is to learn, and the more you want to learn. The very best part of education is to inspire that victorious cycle.