History, the word, has a sort of panoramic ring to it, covering whole epochs, defining eras, labeling ages. At least the history I grew up with was papered over with dates and places, impacts on countries and peoples, all very Charlie Brown’s I love mankind, it’s people I hate attitude.
A phrase I repeat often is Memory is tyrannical…a’la Rosenstock-Huessy from my college thesis when history was so important to me, and worrisome. Worrisome because there was always the counterpunch, history is written by the victors, so spake Winston Churchill. There is the feeling that we should get it right, and if so, what is right? And, sometimes, more importantly, who are the victors? That was then, today, history feels more personal with books like CHARLES AND EMMA , or THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD. I think of them more as biography, but in truth, they are history, the study of past events.
I like the Greek root word, even though I’d never be able to pronounce it–– ἱστορία means inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation. Maybe that’s why my favorite reading is mystery stories. Why while I was studying history I was reading Nancy Drew, John McDonald, Walter Mosley, Raymond Chandler and anyone else who told a good who-dun-it. Because what better story than one that is not known, one that is important and not known, one that can be told.