Change

Change
Turning Over New Leaf

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Historical-Mindedness: A Preface to History








Historical-Mindedness: A Preface to History







One book that always fascinates me every time I read it is the 1955 introduction to the history of mankind entitled, A Preface to History by Carl G. Gustavson. It is not the sort of text a creative writer usually reads, nor is it delightfully entertaining. It fails to enlighten the general public about pop culture figures, and it does not present the lives of extraordinary world characters in such a way as to shock or thrill us. The brilliance of this work lies in the ability of this outstanding historian to paste together human history from seemingly unrelated events spanning centuries.

Gustavson allows his readers to understand the concept of “historical-mindedness,” which once understood, permeates the mindset of every writer, artist, or musician hoping to make a difference. The principle is simple: History is not a series of events on a timeline, (which coincidentally is the reason why many of us never liked the subject in school). It is a living, breathing concept that guides all of us in our daily pursuits. When we consider the forces of history that affect us regularly, be they social, technological, religious, economic, political, revolutionary, or other causations, we understand that no single event results in historical movement. Great changes in history do not occur because someone tacks 95 theses on a church door, or some lunatic invades Poland without justification. Change occurs due to a combination of forces that result in broad movements over long periods.

Though dated in parts, I highly recommend this book to lovers and haters of historical texts. It is well worth the minimal effort. After one read, we learn to think “historically.” We make quick connections, linking past with present. And best of all, we learn how we fit into the future.

8 comments:

  1. I never know what I am going to "get" here. It's fascinating... really.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Having studied Tudors & Stuarts for O-level, and Greeks & Romans for A-level, I agree that history is taught by dates! and probably the only two I can remember are 1066 (because my evening class French teacher ALWAYS used that in our number translation practice haha!) and the Battle of Cannae, 216 BC (because I thought of it every time I asked "Can I...?").

    Robin is right, we never know what interesting post we are going to get from you, JJ :-)

    JX

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for stopping by.Have a gr8 weekend.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It sounds like an interesting book. I totally agree with this view of history - in history people are always putting the cart before the horse and placing ideas first and social movements and historical changes second.

    Martin Luther may have tacked his arguments against the Catholic church 200 years previously and been treated like any other Heretic. There had to be other historical forces at work just waiting for a leader.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Juniper: 1066! Oh those Normans!

    Gingeyginge: Thank you, and right back at you!

    Akseli: Absolutely! That is exactly Gustavson's point, and I try to remember that when significant modern events occur. There is always more behind the scenes.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Naturally, I yawned when I saw this was a post on a history book...but I'm so glad I read on, because guess what -- I just went and added this book to my list at Goodreads! Compelling post here, and who knows, perhaps after I read this book I won't yawn at history any more. Thanks for the enlightenment.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nicki: I agree. History books are not my usual read. However, this one grabbed me. Thanks so much for following!

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.