The way we look at history


Sometimes I stop to think and acknowledge my surroundings—will I be here in a year? I’m always aware of staying and leaving because that’s what I’ve done for a big part of my life. In middle and high-school we are taught history classes and we learn about the important events of the past. I remember that during one of those history classes the teacher made us think about how future generations would remember ours. Many students raised their hand to say that the election of Barack Obama[1] as president of the United States would definitely be on the list of significant events that future generations would still remember and deem as important. The teacher showed us a list of important events of the past that we still choose to remember because of their lasting significance for the world. This lead me to think about the way that humans choose to remember the past and how history can change over time.

Recently I’ve been thinking about objects of the past and their meaning; we see an object, let’s say it’s a hair clip, from the 19th century. It’s interesting and special because it’s old. That’s the first thing—it’s old. After that other factors come into play. Things like who it belonged to (a child? A noblewoman? Even better!) and the materials (Bronze? Gold?). All of these things are important because they paint a picture for us of a time that we can only imagine. But, what often freaks me out is the fact that time ages an object to become important, unique and interesting. I get it, these objects are not present in abundance anymore and that’s why they have to be kept in careful quarters and observed, but will my belongings also age to become artifacts to humans in the future?

The concept of history was created in the Renaissance. People wanted to improve their countries’ welfare and realized that turning to ancient Greek literature was important since they contain knowledge that was useful to create an enlightened society. Because of this, people started to recognize that what we created in the past was important to store and observe. I’m glad that this awareness was brought amongst us because studying texts from the past is extremely important. However, I can’t help but think about the future and how our present objects will be stored and observed. With the internet you’d think this is easy—create a text or digitalize an object and store it on the internet for future generations. But what if, in the future, digital storing spaces are so full of information that people will have to start picking and choosing the most important things and ignore all of the rest?  My main concern here is the ephemeral quality of our lives and of the things that surround us; in the grand scheme of things a lot of what we do and have will not be as important to others in the future. This thought always helps me put things into perspective.

So what’s really the use of me explaining all of this? Well, I like to think about history in conjunction to the future. That might sound like an oxymoron but all I am trying to say is that imagining how future generations will look at our lives, objects and ideas intrigues me. It also, as I said before, urges me to think about the “bigger picture”—the thoughts and issues that our generation should be putting its focus on.

Now I’d like to go back to an object (that has become an artifact through history) just like the hairpin that I was talking about in the beginning. This time I want to talk about a manuscript from the 1600’s that I saw recently in a class that I’m taking. The ink was still intact and the pages were, although yellowed, without tears. I couldn’t help but think that this artifact was once just a book that people read out of. As I learned more about the habits of people from this time period I realized that it often seems as if there is a huge gap between history and the present. To explain this further consider black and white films. They remind you of something old, right? But, if that same film is suddenly presented with colour to you then you’ll probably feel it’s easier to relate to the movie. The distance between yourself and what you think is ‘old’ decreases. In fact, film colourisation happens often to modernize films for viewers[2]. The past is altered for the present generation’s easier digestion. But, this also happens the other way around. A movie such as Schindler’s List was released in 1994 as an almost fully black and white film. Colour is used sparingly and strategically in this movie; either to bring its viewers back to the present or to highlight an important person or symbol in a particular scene. The black and white help the viewer understand that the movie takes place during the Second World War.

Now I’d like to wrap this all up and bring your focus to the present. What I have learnt from all of this is that the past, present and future all stand on one connected line that bring us together to teach us about humanity. The events of today will eventually end up in history books of the future, to be studied by children in school. Also, the artifacts that were once used as everyday objects now stand in museums to be admired by others. Despite their age, they are still a part of our continuing history.

[1] This was around 2010


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