Dave posted recently on one of the purposes of history. Or rather, he pondered a little bit on the purposes and then went on to use history as a means of illustrating some observations he was making. He looked at history, made note of some useful contexts related to what he was thinking about, and then used those historical points to explain himself. I thought that worked out pretty well. History is a great tool for understanding many things, it provides much needed context. In today’s world, where context is ignored or manipulated in so many things, I have a very hard time of coming up with something more valuable than that.
When I was younger, around 9 or 10, history reinforced in me skepticism and mistrust of what I was taught. Although I would not realize it for for another 15 or 20 years, I had a huge trust issue with anything resembling authority. Not like James Dean, or your typical teenager, but more along the embodiment of, “Trust, but verify.” Facts at face value were only the starting point, they had to be checked. Context and subtext had to be explored, reasoning followed, motivations understood. History was my lens, and my mechanism, for all of my social interactions with people. Suffice to say, when I learned that Columbus did not actually discover America, as we had been taught since I was a wee lad of five, it was enough to send me into a fit of righteous indignation. I laugh about it now, but I remember with a great deal of clarity, the feelings of anger and betrayal at realizing the teachers that I trusted would lie to me like that, especially since I could see no reason for doing so. At that age I lacked perspective and the ability to distinguish subtleties, but still- trust, but verify.