Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why I Love History

By: Jason Evans

For my second blog for Pikes Peak, I thought I would share why I love history so much. This might take a while, so be patient. To be fair, I think my love of history was originally an infatuation with trivia and quirky events that evolved into love, then obsession.

In 1984 I entered Mr. Perdy’s 7th grade World History class at Woodrow Wilson Jr. High, in Pasadena, California. (Does anybody remember Jr. high school?) Mr. Perdy was this really cool guy. Older, jovial, and full of jokes, he had great classroom management and taught really well. We were about six weeks into school, learning about the ancient Romans and Greeks, when he brought a film for us to watch; Cleopatra, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

I had never seen a film in class before, and this film was epic. The costumes, the plot, (the overacting), I was completely hooked! I think that was the first time I realized that history was about people. Real, flesh and blood people, who dreamed, became jealous, failed and succeeded.

For the rest of that year, my number one question in class was: why? Why did the Romans declare war on Carthage? Why did European Christians start the Crusades? Why would anybody live that way? . . . Why?
 
Many years later I was at community college, hanging out with the misfits in the cafeteria, when I discovered that a bunch of them worked at the Southern California Renaissance Faire. At my faire, the actors are divided into social groups named after saints. The military guild was called the Guild of St. Michael (patron saint of soldiers). The Queen’s court, (it was an Elizabethan faire,) was named the Guild of St. George (patron saint of England).

So my friends were in the Guild of St. Andrews. They played Scots & Irish. Now for some reason, this 350 pound black man was always infatuated with kilts and bagpipes. So I begged and pleaded to be an actor at faire. Long story short, I worked faire for seven years. These people were my friends, and my family.  

They were also really into peer pressure.

See, you had to know your history to work the Southern Faire. (That’s what we called it because there was a Northern Faire in the Bay area.) I was given a freakin’ bibliography of books and was told to read them. Now, no one was going to kick me out if I didn’t read, but I learned quick that the ignorant were mocked.

I also learned that every group specialized in its own history. That people would get into heated arguments about fabric fibers, blade lengths, historical dyes, and the political motivations of monarchs dead centuries.



Faire impressed upon me a second time that history was about people; how they lived, what they did, and why they did it.

In 1994, I got accepted at UC Santa Barbara. (Home of the Gauchos!) While applying, I discovered that being a double major was pretty simple. I also discovered they had a Renaissance Studies major. So guess what I did?

Yup, I doubled majored.

Now Renaissance Studies was an interdisciplinary major, meaning I could take classes in
theatre arts, history, art history and English. I took about four history classes for that major. I also took two theatre classes (on costuming), two art history classes on Dutch painting, a classics class and an English class on Renaissance Theater. I read the revenger’s tragedy and the Spanish tragedy, among other plays. (Both had plots and characters Shakespeare lifted from Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet.)

Both majors reinforced what I already knew; history was about people. What UC Santa Barbara did was introduce me to their words. I read Shakespeare, Daniel Webster, and Frederick Douglass. I read speeches Vichy French politicians gave imploring their fellow leaders not abandon France to the Nazis. I held an original pamphlet declaring South Carolina’s secession from the United States. I read the Sykes-Pico Accords, which laid the foundation for the Mideast as we know it today.

As I finished my studies and graduated from college I realized I had something more important than a bunch of facts in my head, or the ability to write killer essays. I realized I could now envision how our world got to the place it is today. More importantly, I knew why.

History is important because it answers that question. Why is the world in the state that it’s in? Why does our government implement the policies that it does? Why are some groups disadvantaged while others flourish? Why do we have an electoral college, instead of direct elections for President? Why?

When I’m sad or lonely or angry about an injustice, I’m comforted by the fact that I am not the only one who has felt this way. Teenage boys in ancient Egypt mooned over girls they would never kiss. English nobles frequently got in trouble with banks, and that in spite of their profound faith, the Puritans were wracked with guilt and fear, just like some of us.
  
Understanding that we express the same hopes and fears for our children, make the same mistakes and carry the same kinds of prejudice somehow makes me feel better. Like I’m not alone. History makes me feel like we are all in this together.

And, if you’re really wise, then you can learn from history. Learn that courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of it. That things could have been different if this person had gone left instead of right. That the world we live in was built by courageous, imperfect people who worked hard for what we have today. That at the end of the day, we are all human. Flawed and petty, but full of hope.


And THAT, gentle reader is why I love history. Now tell me why you love history? Leave your stories in the comments section below.

About the Author:  Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer, he just didn't know it. He grew up in Pasadena, California, in the 1980s where he watched way too much television, but was introduced to literature by his grandfather and his favorite middle school and high school teachers. He wasted his youth working at the So Cal Renaissance Faire (a dangerous place because it’s the gateway drug to other historical costumes,). In his leisure time he’s an educator, a writer, and a bon vivant. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, with degrees in History & Renaissance Studies, a teaching credentials from CSU Los Angeles, as well as a graduate degree from the University of Colorado, Denver. He currently resides in Denver with his wife, the fetching Mrs. Evans, their three dogs and a mischievous cat who calls him his thrall. Find out more about him at www.jason-evans.net @evans_writer