Somehow, I feel myself more and more drawn towards history. I always enjoyed it, having listened to countless hours of history podcasts and enjoyed introductions to a historical setting. I also took some history classes in school, but I don't think that's really sufficient to get truly interested in the subject, at least for me. It's more of an effect of my interest rather than a cause.
I think there's something deeply and fundamentally compelling about human narratives. No matter who we are or where we are or when we are, the same patterns and musics play out. There's a line I really like from a game called Night in the Woods that I think about often when reading history.
There's a timelessness about people. Some things don't stop being what we are.
There's almost nothing I hear about in the today, from the news to drama to the smallest most human interactions that couldn't have existed hundreds or thousands of years ago with a few changed names and details. And it's the same thing the other way around; almost every story and detail I've learned from history could happen today and it feels like nobody would bat an eye. Again the details would be different, more conflicts would be playing out in board rooms and superyachts instead of on the battlefield, but fundamentally it feels like everything is the same. Like nothing ever happens.
Most of what I'm talking about here has to do with very human narratives. Because the nature of what it is to be human hasn't really changed. Tales of love and loss. Of jealousy, anger, veangance. Tales of suffering through hard times and finding meaning in all of it. Or thriving in prosperous times, ushering in yet another of our many golden ages. There is nothing new under the sun.
I don't know if it's like this for other people, but the actual stories that play out in all these various historical dramas aren't necessarily the most interesting. What adds that extra level of spice, however, is knowing that these things actually happened. Knowing that many of their descendants and legacies may still be having an impact on the world of today, and that anyone can go and find evidence of what happened and see it with their own two eyes. If I'm enjoying something and I know that the events in it are accurate or that it actually happened then that automatically gives it some extra points for me.
So a lot of times I'm drawn to all kinds of historical media if there is even an iota of accuracy. One of example of this is the assassin's creed video game series. Of course these very dramatized, if they can even be called historical fiction (spoiler alert: there is no secretive order of assassin's that rule the world). However how amazing is it to walk around ina virtual recreation of 11th century Damascus or Italian renaissance Florence or America during the pirate age. These games are admittedly quite mediocre in many respects, but they amazing at inciting an interest in what came before. Like I said the settings aren't necessarily always masterfully depicted, but just knowing that real people once lived in those places presents an irresistable allure.
Another famous source of historical entertainment is Dan Carlin's Hardcore History series. The thing I like is that he kind of approaches history similar to how I do. The academic perspective is very focused on sources - figuring out which source is reliable, which sources contradict, where and how sources came from. And it's wonderful that this exists, because tracking down the reliable facts and putting them in sequence is what allows podcasts like Hardcore History to exist.
My preferred way to engage with history is to ask a lot of what if questions and counterfactuals. I am relentlessly curious after all. What if the US lost the revolutionary war? Why did Europe surpass Asia in science and military might? If we found lots of oil in Central Asia instead of the Middle East, how would the world look today. Podcasts like the above string the facts together, throw in a artistic license, and paint an incredibly compelling picture of great people and their lives.
When I look at the world around me and learn more about what's going on, I find that there is so much history that's still so ever present in the world we live in today. Every strange relationship between nations, every unexplainable piece of tradition, every line drawn on a map and every suspiciously appointed world leader. Part of me feels like I've seen all of it play out before, and so it's hard to feel surprised by things. In fact, I've noticed that unlike many people I know I rarely feel confused or shocked or outraged when big things happen and I think a part of that is the sense that nothing is happening today that hasn't happened a hundred times before.
The fact that there are so many interesting inviduals with fascinating lives provides another positive benefit to my worldview of today. A lot of the most interesting and entertaining people are ones who, if you didn't know their whole stories, might have seemed otherwise boring. I don't know, its very possible that I'm just easily entertained, especially by anything which has the slightest hint of drama. But there are so so many average people who lived extraordinary lives.
The fun part is realizing that as this was true for thousands of years it must remain true today. Any stranger I walk past might one day overcome countless trials and tribulation to become lord of his own little fiefdom. Anyone I talk to could literally go down in history, their life and achievements not recognized as notable until long after their demise. I think it's extremely entertaining to view my fellow man in this way. Everybody, whether they like it or not, is part of humanity's collective story and I love knowing I have a hand in writing our next chapter.