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I really, really enjoy consuming history. I listen to podcasts, read books, and watch all kinds of history related media. There's an important distinction here though; I don't participate in the act of studying or analyzing history. I'm nothing close to being a historian. What I enjoy is maybe better described as "pop history", but I don't mean that in a bad way.

I kind of think of it sometimes as walking through a tunnel under a huge mountain. I imagine a lot of us go through tunnels every once in a while, maybe even deep underground. Whether it's under a hill or in the metro system, being underground is not that uncommon.

What I imagine though, it gazing up at a gigantic mountain. Almost impossible to comprehend it's size and scale; imagining its gargantuan weight might even make you dizzy. If you spend too long thinking about it, and then go through a tunnel underneath this immense mass of stone and dirt, then suddenly all that weight above you is very noticable. Uncomfortable even. You might feel the mountain weighing heavy above you, always aware of its presence. It's not just knowing that it exists, but its feeling the immense weight of it like it exerts some kind of stony pressure all around you.

This, in my opinion, is kind of what it feels like to learn history. It makes everywhere you visit and everything you see take on that much more significance. Walking in what you know to be the footsteps of great historical figures makes the world feel so special and awe inspiring. You can't possibly ignore it; the pressure of all that history is always at the back of your mind, reminding you how important and insignificant all of us are. It's an incredible feeling.

I don't always get this feeling. It's the strongest when I visit somewhere that has a lot of history that I've studied up on. I normally enjoy learning history for its own sake - oftentimes it's as gripping as any novel with twice as much drama - but doing it while I'm in such a place makes it far far more engaging. It becomes like a game.

To give some sense of what I'm talking about, imagine being able to visit your favorite fictional world. Maybe from a game or a tv show, something with a lot of lore. Wouldn't be amazing to go to all the main sites and attractions and know the significance of what happened there. There would be so many unique ways to relive your favorite moments and connect with the parts you enjoyed most.

One major difference is that each fan would likely have the same high and low points because there's only one main way to experience most fictional worlds (maybe for the huge lore heavy universes like Star Wars this doesn't apply). With real history, there is an infinite number of different ways to engage with the past, and that makes connecting with it a bespoke one of a kind experience. Maybe it's your interest in the development of an art style, or connection through ancestry, or love of great battles. Whatever it is, it means you can choose to experience the past differently that everyone else because history can be infinitely detailed.

It is worth noting, again, that most of what I describe is more like pop history. It's nothing like the hard work that actual historians do: finding and analyzing primary sources, historiography to determine trustworthiness, academic publications. We mere consumers simply enjoy the fruits of their labour, after they do the messy work of turning jumbles of difficult to parse sources into nice clean and dramatic narratives. Enjoying pop history isn't a bad thing though! That kind of passion is what births the historians of tomorrow.

In addition to the tourist experience, I think that an appreciation for history can even heighten far more mundane activities. I think I understand this a lot more after coming to Chicago, which is a city steeped in its own history. It's not that it's stuck in the past, but more that it's been involved in so many great things that the feeling of history is all around. Like the sense I described when standing in a tunnel - Chicago has that more than most other cities I've visited.

Because Chicago used to be one of the greatest cities in the entire world, hosting world's fairs and inventing the concept of the skyscraper, there's a lot of random historical oddities and tidbits you can unexpectedly run into around the city. Sometimes you'll randomly discover some famous people used to visit or live right near the area you're in. Of course the biggest names like Obama, Al Capone, or Michael Jordan are well known but it's always fun when it happens unexpectedly.

Many of the institutions have a grand and storied history. It's so fun going to what seems like any other museum and then discovering they have the only remaining Nazi submarine, or the biggest T-Rex fossil. Individually each of these instances is just a fun novelty, but put all together they lend a sense of gravitas and weight to Chicago's history. It's always a reminder that many many important things have happened before your time, right on top of the same ground where you walk. Again, an amazing feeling.

I feel lucky that when it comes to travel it's always easy for me to pick destinations where I want to visit, and that I know I'll enjoy. All I have to do to be wildly interested in an area is just to read some of its history. And, if I go there blind and run into the history at a museum, I'd probably spend hours there thinking about the implications of what I'm reading until somebody pulled me out.

I'm not sure if others engage with history in the same way that I do, but I really really recommend trying it. It can make even the most boring place seem incredibly special.