What is the importance of doing history? I once posed this question to a friend, the historian AC (Compton) Reeves. His response, at once playful but also clearly sincere, resonated so strongly with my own feelings that I wrote it on the whiteboard in my office: “I think there are some among us who have empathy for those who lived in the past, and want to know more about them. History is the most humanistic of all disciplines, in that it includes all that folk in the past have done in all areas of endeavor. Doing history is an art, not a science, and it appeals to our creative instincts. Doing history also expands our specious present into what ever age and area of human history … catches our fancy. To do history, then, makes us more human, for only humans among the creatures can have history. For us it is a mystical thing, keeping in mind that ‘medievalist’ and ‘mystic’ are both ‘m’ words. Is it not of practical value to become as richly human as we are able to become? Is it not the purpose of life for each of us to grow in our individual humanity, and is not the study of past lives an exposure to the life pilgrimages of those who have gone before and can guide us?”
…the life pilgrimages of those who have gone before and can guide us… On this Winter Solstice, I’m taking time to meditate on this. Humbly, with gratitude.