January 2011

Historians are trained skeptics. I often like to state that we graduated with distinction from the John Lennon School of Skepticism.

All kidding aside, historians are trained to question everything: not to take carte blanche any argument put forward by other scholars, nor rely on the surface and contextual meanings of documents, artifacts, and other various mediums of the past. In fact, the historical “school” of thought known as Post Modernist, question the very ability of historians to come anywhere near the “truth” in depicting the past.  Now that’s skeptical!

Thus, it was refreshing to see Hans Roling’s “200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes: The Joy of Stats” video which I have linked here.

I was not so much blown away by the video – which is outstanding – as much as I was with Rosling’s final summation, the way he looked at the totality of human history, the trends that have been set, and how Rosling insisted that better days await.

My historical thinking – prior to watching the Rosling video – was rooted in the Hobbsian view that life is “nasty, brutish, and short…” and that what we now live in is nothing more than an anomaly that will one day correct itself returning, as a matter of course, back to days of nastiness, brutishness, and life expectancies under forty.

After watching the Rosling clip, now I have to question even myself. Now that’s skepticism.

I must be either brave or either stupid. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. All I know is that I have this here Master’s Degree in History. Now there’s all this stuff ruminating about my brain, so much so that I can no longer ignore the urge to blog. So here it is.

Welcome to Joe Historian.

This site is dedicated to my struggle, my personal struggle to pursue my life’s passion which, crazy as it sounds, is History. More than anything, I want to be a professional historian. I love History, so go ahead call me a geek, a book nerd, a worm digging in the past refuse of human hubris. I can take it.

Funny, this wanting to be a historian; it is so out of synch from what America is all about. The good ol’ US of A is a forward looking country, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, shoot first ask questions later (see Iraq) type nation-state. It’s our culture, can’t get around it.

Therefore this blog is really about two things – my struggle to become a professional historian, and then History itself. I am, rumor has it, heading to Manchester, England in the Fall of this year to pursue my doctorate (just what we need, another Marxist Historian in the Ivory Tower). Well, no. I am, for one, not a Marxist. I am a cultural historian. I like to know what makes society click and believe that cultural determinism has something to do with that. Now that’s a pretty fancy phrase, but it’s pretty simple, really. Culture determines (at least partially) the choices societies make. So think about some of the choices we Americans have made in the last few years; yes, us, the pill-popping, PlayStation-playing, gun-toting, i-Pod-poking, celebrity-fixated, car-driving, big box-shopping, music and podcast-downloading, coffee-drinking, God-fearing, Liberty-loving, politically-divided nation. When faced with a tough choice, these cultural traits often influence and predicate the outcomes.

That’s what I do.

Except, I go back in time, try to understand how the forces that exist with us today were influenced by yesteryear. I argue that cultural traits that existed hundreds of years ago created our today – the Puritan work ethic, for example. Yes, we work 24/7/365 (when we can find it. Jeesh, Joe – there is a recession on you know). Puritans worked for God, for salvation. As my Aunt Tilly once told me (or scolded me) “Idle hands are the devil’s hands.” Today, collectively, we work hard for other reasons, and while the rest of the industrial world may have five weeks paid vacation, we here in America are just fine with next to none.

Anyway, that’s enough information for now.

Just know that this blog is an opportunity for me to get the stuff that constantly swirls in my head – out. I don’t expect it to become big in anyway. The typical American shrugs at History so I don’t see that cultural trend changing anytime soon.

But I do have projects I am working on and I will post them. I also possess some completed projects and I will get those posted as well. Clio – the muse of History – will be present. I’ll make sure that I comment on her status from time to time (as I am sure she will comment on me). And of course my struggles to earn a job in the field of History will be there. And WHEN, not IF, I obtain such a job, I’ll keep this blog a going.