Every time I look into history I get sucked back farther and farther. I’ve spent the last few days working on my research site, and realizing just how much I don’t know. It took a while to figure out why. It has surprised me to find high school syllabi which cover the same material. I certainly don’t remember anything approaching the sort of depth I see out there now; but back then the courses were “social studies” and “government,” not capital H history as it seems to be today.
After the long hiatus of debauchery that was my “adult” life, I returned to college and thought a moment about majoring in a variety of things: Art History, History, English, and as a last resort, Rhetoric. Funny how things work out. I had to settle on only two, and they ended up being Rhetoric and English, and I couldn’t settle for a minor— no, not me— I had to make it a dual major, thus removing the chance of taking “elective” courses. I figured out that this is why I feel so stupid about American history. I was only able to take two classes: US History to 1877, and an elective upper level course in US History since 1945. The two other required history courses, “History of Western Civilization” were really a waste. When you do a century in an afternoon you can’t possibly remember much.
I have never taken a single class devoted to what I am researching now. It was strange to realize that after five years of school that I know a hundred times more about British history (due to the literature stuff) than I do US history. I’ve only had one course in American literature— American Literature to 1800— so there was little need to study it. Besides, I thought most of it was crap. Because of my single-mindedness in taking over a dozen courses in eighteenth and nineteenth century British literature, I had pretty much ignored the Americans. I suppose this guarantees that my approach will be different. I know where these pesky Americans stole it from.
It’s just the time of year, I guess. I keep thinking about just how much work I really must do to pull this off. I’m really writing about the 1930s in America (as a target focus) but I just can’t get there without dealing with the period from 1877-1945, and I just haven’t been able to cram that into my head in three days. I realized how long it took before the Romantic period really began to make sense to me— and that it only became a focused response when I started studying how the uncertainty of the hundred years that preceded it boiled over in that pivotal period. The same could be said of the 1930s, and it shares much with the 1730s and the 1830s. One of the things the chair of the Rhetoric department is fond of saying is that “all roads lead to the eighteenth century”— I wish he wasn’t right. No matter how much I try to write about the twentieth century, the more I begin to drift back.
There’s always so much more to know. When I feel stupid, I always seem to get quiet. I hope I can find my voice again soon, or this blog will become a very quiet place.