Thursday, March 19, 2015

Clio's Servants: Why Study History.......or Anything Else?

Clio the Greek Goddess of History


I think I can say with a certain measure of certainty that most of my students would rather be sitting in a dentist's chair than a history classroom. Luckily the State of Texas, though generally run by morons, requires college students to take two semesters of US History. It is divided into US To 1877 and US Since 1877. (There are some other options now, Texas History, etc, but most take the two US courses.) I can't say I blame them. I felt the same way about math classes. I am fortunate that I only had to take one, College Mathematics, to get my degree otherwise I would not have graduated. As it is, I only got a "D" but, as we all know, C stands for Credit and D stands for Diploma. I am not the kind of professor that is out there to convert all of my students to history majors. Yes, there is plenty you can do with a History Degree besides teaching, but I want them to major in something that they like, not something that I like. If that is history, so be it. If it isn't, that is fine too.

I majored in History because that, along with English, were the only two subjects that I was any good in. I really had no other reason. I was not a great student in high school as I was busy with athletics. (Priorities, you know!) When I went off to college, I did pretty well all things considered. But I never planned on teaching. When I got hired by TPWD, they required a college degree (as most state law enforcement positions in Texas do), but it could be in anything. Though a degree was required, a specific one wasn't and I could have just as easily gotten hired with Math degree, God forbid. Though naturally I am happy that I got a degree, I did not really need it all that much when it came to my job. But a lot of degrees are like that.

I guess it was only natural for a person who likes to read to gravitate towards the study of history, which requires a lot of reading. You can't be a history major if you don't like to read. That, Dear Readers, is a fact! For as long as I can remember, I enjoyed reading history books (starting with children's biographies of various famous people: Jefferson, Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, etc. In third grade I read a book length biography (written for high school age kids) about George Armstrong Custer. I remember the discovery of the Titanic which was on all the news programs for a while. But still, I don't know why it was history books and not something else. I guess because in a way, I had an instinctual desire to know why things were the way they were. History explains that. Or maybe I just liked all of the stories which history is full of. Something that, unfortunately, a lot of historians overlook now in their pursuit of "isms". But if anyone was destined to be a history major, I guess it was me.

Rather than give you esoteric reasons as to why the study of the past is important, I'll be a little more blunt. That is, after all, part of my "charm". First of all, studying history teaches you to think. You have to think for yourself and not allow others, including your teachers, to pass their views on to you. The classroom is not a pulpit from which to preach your views to your students. Give them the facts and give them your interpretation, but encourage them to disagree and present facts to support their case. Second, in the world in which we now live, the knowledge of history is of the utmost importance. I find it most distressing to hear politicians and their supporters support invading countries that they cannot even find on a map. Third, though I do not think that history repeats itself in the literal sense, there are certain historical trends that can be seen. For example, invading Russia is a bad idea. (See reason number two....) Consider the example of Afghanistan. The British got bogged down in war there in the 1840s, the Russians in the 1980s, and the United States in the 2000s. That is a historical trend. Finally, I think history teaches us a lot about human nature. If we study how and why people react to certain situations it can give us clues of how people will react to present events. It also explains why people react the way they do to contemporary issues. But ultimately, you have to major in what you love, be that history, math, or underwater basket weaving.

I do not consider myself a real historian, but rather a Half A$$ Historian. I also do not consider myself a professor but rather a teacher. (I teach. I do not profess.) People always say if you find a career that you love that you will never work a day in your life. I don't know if I necessarily agree with that. It has been a rough semester for me and I think that I have lost my mojo for the first time in ten years of teaching. It has started feeling more like a job and less like a fun way to spend my day. But there are always those students who manage to make you feel like you are doing something right, no matter how tough a semester it is. Sometimes I wish I had enough money socked away that I could devote three or four months to writing the book that I've always wanted to right. But I'll be 37 this summer and with my health I don't know how many years I'll have left, so the book will have to wait until my next life. As John Lennon said, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who will now devote his time to watching the NCAA tournament. I picked Villanova to win it all. 

1 comment:

  1. Surprisingly, I too plan to write a book... When life moves over & I have time!
    A man of TEXAS, "lost your MoJo!" ... Get back up on your pony Mister!! We want to read more!