How many of you lovers of history are always asked the question, “If you had a time machine, which era of history would you want to go back to?” I feel like that is a staple question asked to history lovers.
Wouldn’t it be fun to go back in time and wave a sword as a knight? Wouldn’t it be great to be serving under Washington during the American Revolution or live in Queen Elizabeth’s Court? Well chances are you wouldn’t be a knight for in Queen Victoria’s court because you would likely be a peasant, and I’m not so sure I would want to be serving under Washington considering how poorly supplied his army was for a long time. Sorry crew, though I may moan and groan about it, I would much rather live in the 21st century where I can drive to work in a car and be only 10 digits instead of 10 days away from communicating with my parents.
There are certainly aspects of the past that I think would be cool to experience. I would love to pick up blacksmithing as a hobby, maybe it would even be cool to see the Magna Carta be signed, but the big thing I’m trying to emphasize, is that I would not want to live in those times. After getting through the first three chapters of John Gaddis’s, The Landscape of History I am even more sure of that belief.
As a historian we get to look back on the entire landscape, not just the spot where we are standing. We don’t only see The Glorious Revolution, we see the British Colonies, European opinions, and philosphies that weave every aspect together. If we were to go back into time, it woudl be like seeing a painting that only had the sky painted on. Certainly it is interesting to note, but it is not the whole picture.
Plus being a historian means that we have that sort of disconnect, and thus helps us keep our emotions at bay. These are just some thoughts I have been gleaning from Gaddis’s book. It is a pretty short read (and judging by what he says about Machiavelli’s The Prince I imagine the length is intentional) and it has been a really good read too. Let me just say, that Gaddis is absolutely hilarious, I found myself chuckling pretty frequently through the first few chapters, something I do not often do.