Sunday, 24 May 2015

History is a curious thing

Photo by RachelBostwick, licensed under CC0 Public Domain

Let me start this post off with a health warning (in defense of myself) - I don't mind to be disrespectful in this post, and I'm aware that some of what I say could be construed as such.  If anything, this post is a sign of my own ignorance!

History is not one of my strong subjects.  When I was a kid, my favourite subject in the world (or not, as it happens) was astronomy, and I followed that up with chemistry, and then geography as a third interest (maps were awesome, with their interesting little symbols and things).  History was something that I was aware existed, but never something I studied, I always thought of history as "boring".

Now, we all like something new, don't we?  Why do product manufacturers make new items to sell? Sticking on them a declaration that the new thing is "new and improved" as if otherwise they might have actually made it worse but tried to sell it anyway?

And in the Internet age, I think this desire is stronger than ever. I have currently published a total of 397 posts, and having looked at my latest Google Analytics data, in the last month the vast majority of people visiting my blog have looked at posts created in the last month.  Where they've been nice enough to re

ad a post and then stay to read another post, the next post (and even the post after that) have generally all been in the last month.  Now, if I look at the history of views since the blog started off, the most popular post apparently is one I wrote just before Christmas 2013 about my phone coming up with the really annoying message "Your internet connection is unstable" (my phone still does this, by the way, and it's still annoying - what does it expect me to do about it, tell my router to pull itself together?) but it sure isn't attracting much in the way of attention now, because it's old.

Now here's the bit which might annoy people.

I don't know a thing about the 1700s.

As I write this (and I'll do some research after I write this paragraph to give weight to this post - but this paragraph is written purely from what I can think of) I honestly do now know a thing about anything that happened in the eighteenth century.  Maybe one thing - something in America. I think (and think is the operative word) that the founding fathers of the USA wrote and signed their Declaration of Independence towards the end of this century.  About 1780 perhaps?  And I can infer that as a result the American Civil War kicked off about now. Did the American Civil War take place at the same time as America freeing itself from British rule?  I'm assuming so.

(Now I'll find out just how ignorant I am...) - okay, the Declaration of Independence was actually signed in 1776, so I wasn't too far out with that.  However, the war was actually the American Revolutionary War and it started before the Declaration was signed, and the American Civil War didn't take place until 1861.

So, although I wasn't totally wrong, there's some really significant stuff that I got totally wrong.  And taking the eighteenth century again, there must have been hundreds of thousands of major and minor events that took place in those hundred years.  Having a quick look at Wikipedia, there was the French revolution, Britain conquered India, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ended, the Industrial Revolution began. Wikipedia lists a number of around 385 notable people that lived in that century, politicians, poets, crooks, musicians, artists, military geniuses, philosophers... well, I recognised 32 of the names. And of those 32, I probably couldn't tell you more than a sentence about any of them.

The world population in 1750 was around 750-800 million people. Imagine all of the interesting things those people experienced - the bizarreness that is everyday life, what they used to do for entertainment, what they liked to drink, their favourite recipes... however hard humanity has tried to catalogue and gather information, the amount we have lost over the millennia is countless.  Senet was a game played by ancient Egyptians,but the actual rules for the game... what are they? What information was lost in the Library of Alexandria in its (possibly multiple) fires?

Even more recent stuff - let's take Wil Wheaton.  I love Wil Wheaton, I think he's ace (as I wrote about here and here).  He taught me through his posts that it's okay to be a geek, and I remember several nights where I just spent hours reading some of his blog posts.

But, I have still only read some of them. He's been blogging for fourteen years, and I've maybe read a quarter of the posts, maybe not even that much. And I can't remember everything he wrote, nowhere near that amount.  There will certainly be people around that have read every post he's written, and one day I may be able to include myself in that list, but I can't think that it's in the thousands of people, perhaps not even in the hundreds.  And he's well worth reading.

I don't really have an ending to this blog post, it's been a bit meandering and ranty without having a real point to it.  I guess I'm just commenting on how we are forever making "new" stuff, but how much of the old stuff, which could be just as good - if not better - than the new stuff, are we losing?

Maybe history is worth taking a look at after all.

Do you like history? Or not?  Say hi in the comments!  And you could take a look at some of my older posts, like this one about Google Nose and some fun I had in CS: Source


  1. Keeping it real, regardless of how rambly is always a great read. I have a way to make the late 18th century and early 19th century more interesting to you, and drag the geek right out of you if you would like. It was an ice age.
    Everything from the Revolutionary War (and the brutality of the cold) to the French Revolution (most likely caused because French People refused to grow potatoes and were starving because wheat wouldn't grow) all the way to Stradivarius Violins being the greatest ever because the trees had small rings, all the way to the book Frankenstein being written because it was too cold to enjoy a vacation. All based on an ice age. :)

    1. Wow! Apparently I did know something about this because when I googled it (more info at I was reminded that I had read up about this in the past. That is really interesting, you assume that the climate is roughly the same as today but of course the effect of an ice age is going to generate riots and all kinds of variations in human behaviour as people try to survive the worsened weather... thanks Jeremy :)

  2. You are not alone. Having spent some time as a teacher, a lot of children found history a boring subject. (sorry about the question mark first)

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