I’m back from my vacation to Dublin & London, so this just seems appropriate.
The trip was amazing.
New York City, like any old city has structures that are no longer used, or accessible to the public. This documentary follows two men as they trespass their way through some incredible history. The risks they take become increasingly more insane as the video progresses, and their footage is amazing.
A few days ago I had an in-depth discussion about why so many people seemed to hate history as a child.
I love history, I loved it as a child, throughout grade school, it was one of my majors in college, and I continue to study history on my own as an adult. So, why did I like it where so many others didn’t?
I think it might be because I learned it outside of the classroom.
History is incredibly tough to teach because it is a subject without limit. Take for example early Cold War history. The Cold War lasted from 1945 – 1991. I spent countless hours in a number of different courses studying that 46 year war… but even within that short span of time, the overwhelming majority of my study hours were on the Eisenhower and Kennedy years (roughly 11 years). Within that, my primary focus was on the Cuban Missile Crisis, which lasted a whopping 13 days… I spent far more time studying the Crisis than it lasted.
I know Cold War history, really know the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, and I could talk for days about the Cuban Missile Crisis. My other area of focus was on early Constitutional history (another 50 years or so). I could talk your ear off about the genius of the Founding Fathers.
Basically, after studying history for four years and spending a ton of time reading on my own, I have mastery of the Cold War, early Constitutional history, the history of the guitar in the Western world, and the history of the comic book industry. If I were to teach history, those are the areas that I truly be able to speak about with authority (and two of them are mighty narrow niches).
However, all I would need to teach high school history is a teaching license. This is the case for all history teachers. The topics are so incredibly broad, the wealth of material on any given subject, so deep. No one can master it all. No one can be passionate about all of it. What happens are tremendous gaps in the classroom.
Math, science, English, languages all have rules, and well-defined curriculum. History is so insanely ill-defined… and that’s before you look at the differences in interpretation of events. As a general rule, I don’t think high school history even attempts to analyze the fact that historians don’t agree on a universal history. The past really isn’t clear.
The best path to enjoying history is to find a topic or era that you like, and read on your own. Everything has history, companies, industries, musical instruments and movie genres. The comic book industry’s history overlaps with the history of the organized crime, and the contraceptives industry, as well as Jewish-American and WWII history, in a beautiful web of intrigue and chance.
History isn’t just about the old white guys on our money (although I find most of them very interesting). When I get passionate about something I learn it’s history, music, videogames, the Constitution, or nuclear deterrence. I don’t think it’s possible to understand and fully appreciate anything in life without learning where it came from, and how it evolved over time.
History teachers have it tough. No one will find all of world history interesting (even the most devoted history student), and there is no way that each teacher can have a thorough understanding of all of the classroom material, sometimes they will have to phone it in.
~ syndicated by TheGeekWhisperer.com
I have no idea where this came from. If you know, please tell me so I can site the originator.
This image tracks the evolution of the Coke and Pepsi logos over time.
Coke got it right the first time. I’m not so sure Pepsi ever got it right.
Thanks to RJay for passing this along to me.
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” ~ Daniel Burnham
In recent years I haven’t read many full-length books for pleasure. The combination of work, school, and keeping up with world events limits the amount of time that I can spend reading lengthy pieces for pleasure.
For roughly the last year I have been slowly reading Erik Larson’s, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. It is a non-fiction historical novel about the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. The odds are pretty good that you haven’t ever heard of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, but it was both an extremely inspirational event and a moment in time that changed history.
Larson follows two story-line, the creation of the fair, and the evils of a man who went by the name H.H. Holmes.
The creation of the fair follows many of the men who made this impossible fair a reality. It specifically tells the stories of Daniel Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair and Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architecture pioneer and visionary who was responsible for the fair’s grounds. Olmstead also designed Central Park. Their trials and tribulations both amazed and inspired me on a profound level.
The second tale that is weaved into the book is the story of Herman Webster Mudgett A.K.A. Dr. H.H. Holmes. Holmes was a sociopath and a serial killer who murdered somewhere between 20 and 230 people over the course of a few years leading up to, during, and after the fair. He was a cunning, talented, and immensely evil man. His history has been pieced together by Larson, however much of his life remains a complete mystery (thus the wide range in the number of people that he murdered).
The story is compelling and shocking. If I didn’t know that it was real, I would have thought it was impossible. In the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition these architects built a stunning city in about two years, and Holmes was so good at being a villain that it is almost hard to believe he was real. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
Every once in a while I read a book, hear a song, or see a movie that changes the way I think. This is one of those books. I strongly recommend that you pick up a copy. If you choose to read it, I suggest that you refer to a site such as, Digital Archive of American Architecture for photographs of the fair.
The book is available here.
Everywhere I go these days I feel like I’m bombarded with accusations that technology is destroying the fabric of society and rational thought.
I’ve had conversations with coworkers, friends, family, even my last date spent some time explaining to me how she believed that technology was eroding concentration and in turn causing children to spend less time reading, writing, playing outside, and using their imagination.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when pondering our imminent intellectual apocalypse brought about by technology.
First and foremost, technology allows us time to stop focusing on day-to-day survival. No one makes this concept more clear than Vaughn, the author of the post, “The Myth of the Concentration Oasis” (I strongly recommend reading this). To paraphrase, technology let’s us focus on things other than finding food, and raising children at all times. “The ‘modern technology is hurting our brain’ argument is widespread but it seems so short-sighted. It’s based on the idea that before digital communication technology came along, people spent their time focusing on single tasks for hours on end and were rarely distracted.”
If you think back to the history of the earliest humans, the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers was so important because it meant that certain people could focus on new tasks that didn’t involve basic survival. Farming meant that a smaller portion of a society could feed the larger group, thus allowing for the creation of new occupations. Technology allows us to build upon that basic principle (Seriously read Vaughn’s post, it is worth your time). If you think life would be easier without technology, try shedding all of it. See how easy your life becomes.
I was one of the people who thought that instant messengers and texting were hurting written language. I was a teaching assistant in a technical writing course in college and was frequently appalled at some of the writing that the students submitted. However, poor writing comes from a lack of caring or understanding of written language, not from technology. A recent study showed that texting doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on writing.
We also assume that everyone was intelligent in past generations. Think back to early America. Can you imagine people from that generation writing poorly? I couldn’t. I had no basis for the assumption, but I had just thought that people learned how to write properly. Then I read some of William Clark’s journal writings from the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific coast. Meriwether Lewis could write well, but Clark was another story. I’m pretty sure he never spelled the work “mosquito” the same way twice.
We live in an age where endless knowledge is at our fingertips. If you are unsure of a fact, Google it, unless you are looking for something abstract or intangible, you will have an answer in seconds.
“But no one knows how to find things in a library?” You might be thinking.
To that, I ask you – “Who cares?”
Browsing a library is only an important skill if that is the only place you can find the information you seek. Since everything is digital (even library catalogs) the skill is essentially useless. Using a card catalog or a search engine are a means to an end or more often a means to other means. The act of finding the information is less significant than the information itself.
To look at this from a personal angle – I had a very hard time learning to read as a child. I loved to learn from an early age, but reading was so damn difficult that I didn’t do it unless I had to. For at least the first fourteen years of my life (probably longer) I spent far more time playing video games than reading or writing. I did well in school and if you looked at my grades in spite of this, but I didn’t really learn to write until I sat down and decided that I wanted to get better. I’m still learning, and always will.
Come to think of it, in recent months writing this blog has pushed me to develop my writing more than school or work. I guess this damn technology is doing something to my brain.