Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why I Love History

Often when I tell people that I want to be a historian, their immediate reaction involves a sour face and some variation of "ugh, why history? Were all the good majors taken?"

Well aren't you a barrel of laughs.

So I'm going to try and illustrate just how this subject draws me in.
While researching for my thesis, I came across the following article:
{transcribed from the Daily Evening Bulletin, (San Francisco, CA) Thursday, October 12, 1876}
 A Union Soldier Who Took a Ham from a Rebel Wants to Pay for It.
          EDITOR BULLETIN: Mr. Sargent's speech, delivered at Platt's Hall on the 9th instant, reminds me of a debt which I was forced to contract in the service of the United States Government near Farmersville, Va., a few days before Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court-house, and which is not yet paid.
            During that historical march of the Army of the Potomac which culminated in the episode near Appomattox Court-house, we were very short of rations, and consequently I was forced with others to subsist on forage.  How heavy these evil deeds weigh now on my mind! Especially do I repent, in looking back on those days, that I was so unfortunate as to find a delicious ham in the smokehouse of a Virginia farmer, and for taking it along with me with the intention of putting to rest the rebellious cravings of an empty stomach.  That ham is no yet paid for! If the Virgina farmer, who was once the owner of it, wishes to enter in communication with me, I am willing to sign before a Notary Public a bill of claims in his favor on the United States Government to the amount of the price of said ham.  I promise that this bill will be paid when the people, sustaining the Democratic party, declares by its vote that the war for the Union and freedom has been a failure.
SAN FRANCISCO, October 19th, 1876.
         How blithe and snarky! Well done, good sir. Who was this amusing Union fellow who stole a ham and then eleven years later, wrote about it to the editor? And why did he do it? 

         There are so very many things in this short little editorial that illustrate Northern versus Southern and Democratic versus Republican relationships in the post war period but I will save such brilliant insights for my thesis.  The point I make here is that too often we ascribe wit and sarcasm solely to our modern society, as though previously it was unknown.  We are guilty of viewing the past through a lens of self-supposed superiority.  But history is not merely a chronicle of simpler times.  History is a rich, complex, and enthralling story only waiting to be discovered. There are faces and names and people. There is patriotism, revenge, love, hate, fear, and passion.
 I love history because it is entirely subjective and inevitably ambiguous.  I love it because it is an approach and not a science.  I love it because it is ultimately a race between education and catastrophe. 

And most of all I love history because I love telling the story.

Who's laughing now?


  1. first, I'm not laughing b/c I'm in class right now. second, in the last line the soldier says he'll only pay for the ham if the Democrats says that the war for the Union and freedom was a failure! I'm no historian, but I don't think this happened and I think this dude knew that it wouldn't happen! therefore, this letter is even more funny because he has no intention of ever paying for this ham! yes?

  2. Congratulations Adam, I believe you have just discovered sarcasm.
    But seriously, that is the whole point of the article. He's making the point that he thinks the South (and the Democratic Party) has to get over itself and accept the way things are.

    But thanks for your comment! :)

  3. I like history best when I'm reading it and discovering it for myself...

    That's why I'm reading the histories of Middle Earth right now...

    is that the history you're talking about? ;)


I love to hear what you're thinking! Thanks for the comment love. :)


design + development by kiki and co. creative