To expand on a point from yesterday…

I’ve been listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History during work and have really been enjoying it. (The history, I mean. Not… so much the work.) The interesting part here is that Carlin isn’t really doing anything groundbreaking or innovative with the material; he’s just talking about history — telling stories, basically — in a very straightforward way that’s somehow both engaging and eminently grokkable. I’m learning a lot — but not anything that I couldn’t learn from a trip to the library or a perusal of Wikipedia, I don’t think. Carlin’s hardly got exclusive sources that no other historian has access to, after all. Still, though, I’m enjoying the learning more than I would if I’d gotten the information from either of those sources.

I’ve mentioned before that my interest in history waxes and wanes. Occasionally I’ll get the urge to read about it and devour three or four books on the subject, but before long I’ll burn myself out on it and move on to other subjects. The reason for this, I think, is that I get too wrapped up in the academia of the subject, and academia bores me, really.

Let me see if I can explain this better… Once, history was considered to be a humanity — like philosophy. You studied the fates of ancient cultures so that you could improve your own; avoid the pitfalls that claimed them. As a result, older historians make a lot of what modern historians would turn their noses up at as “value judgments”. They were closer to news analysts than news reporters. Modern history is more of a science — it’s looking for facts, wants solid proof of claims, is more willing to admit bias in the accounts of observers. It’s also a lot more specialized — these days you’ll get historians who know everything there is to know about, say, the American Civil War, but don’t know more than you or I about the Punic Wars or the Age of Exploration. Old historians would make summary value judgments about older cultures, saying that this or that was the reason the So-and-Soan Empire fell. Modern historians are more aware of the massive number of influences on the course of history and are less interested in making such judgments.

This has a lot of advantages and disadvantages that I’m not qualified to expound on, but it does have one disadvantage that I do feel I can say with conviction: It’s a hell of a lot more boring than the old method. Academia tends towards being as dry as dust, in my experience. It’s all about details, tiny little debates on the fringes. As for me, I’d much prefer an account that plays a little fast and loose with the facts if it makes for a more engaging story overall. I wouldn’t try to publish a paper based on what I’d learned from such a story, but I’d enjoy hearing it more.

That’s fairly consistent with my approach in general, really. When you get right down to it, I can listen to people talk about any subject at all if it’s told interestingly enough. The problem is that the people with enough knowledge to talk about that kind of stuff tend to be more interested in the relatively minor trivia that’s of no interest to the layman. You get this in everything… the more involved a person becomes in a fandom, the less their interest in the fandom resembles anything that a normal person would associate with said fandom. Fans of fiction debate minor characters and murky plot plots. Fans of baseball will argue whether Season A is marginally better than Season B, how much peak should count in comparing players, and whether an obscure proprietary statistic is better than this other obscure proprietary statistic. Gamers will argue endlessly over which two seemingly-identical games (like Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3) is superior. There’s got to be a market for “complicated subjects explained simply to people who are interested, but not willing to make the time investment into the subjects the experts have made.” We’ll call it CSESPWAIBNWMTIISEHM for short!


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