Egan offers a very eloquent defense of the study of history. Here is a taste:
A packet of letters arrived the other day from the honors English
class at St. Lawrence School in Brasher Falls, N.Y. Snail mail, from
high school sophomores? Yes, and honest, witty and insightful snail mail
at that. They had been forced to read a book of mine.
I don’t like reading about history or learning about it,” wrote one
student, setting the tone for the rest of the class.
Bowl? Really?” So began another missive. “When we heard we were reading
your book…heads dropped. Let me rephrase that, heads fell to the floor
and rolled down the hallway.”
You get the drift: history is a
brain freeze. And, writers of history, well, there’s a special place
with the already-chewed gum in nerd camp for them. But as I read through
the letters I was cheered. Some of the last survivors of the American
Dust Bowl were high school sophomores when they were hit with the
nation’s worst prolonged environmental disaster. In that 1930s story of
gritty resilience, the Brasher Falls kids of 2012 found a fresh way to
look at their own lives and this planet.
History is always
utilitarian, and often entertaining. It stirs the blood of any lover of
the past to see Steven Spielberg’s majestic “Lincoln” — at its core, a
drama about politicians with ZZ Top beards writing legislation — crush
the usual soulless, computer-generated distractions at the box office.
history, the formal teaching and telling of it, has never been more
troubled. Two forces, one driven by bottom-line educators answering to
corporate demands to phase out the liberal arts, the other coming from
the circular firing squad of academics who loathe popular histories,
have done much to marginalize our shared narratives.
Read the rest here.