Thomas Brucia


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Is the exploration of history worthwhile without practical applications?

People say that travel has positive value. Does learning about men and women long dead, civilizations now extinct, nations defunct, battles forgotten, technologies superseded, and so on have any value? And is the value inherent (as some claim seeing a Flemish oil painting, wandering in a Romanesque cathedral or listening to a Bach cantata are), or should we shut out the past and concentrate on 'problem solving' and 'the challenges of the future'....?

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    Oct 22 2011: Not to sound too cliche but if we forget the lessons of history we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. People don't really change much, at least not in recorded history. We still fight over the same things, dramas from 500 years ago still resonate today. I think studying history only tells us more about ourselves as individuals and as a race. I think it has great value. No knowledge or wisdom should be tossed aside on the grounds of its age alone.

    And if the zombie Apocalypse comes tomorrow, it's the people who have the old skills that will be the most useful. LOL
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    Oct 18 2011: My approach to a lot of history is based on imagining myself there: walking along with Fermor or Burton or listening to Herzog or Kiyoshi. In this way it's a lot like listening to stories my grandfather told me as a kid about his travels all over the American West in his 30s. I suppose one could say I like story-telling.

    Another thing that I like is the structure of history (it doesn't change) and the security of knowing ever new details can be discovered in the complexity. It's a lot like hiking with a map. Even though you know there's a valley on the other side of a hill, it's exciting to see the unimaginable richness of the view.

    Sometimes I learn things about how my mind works, especially when I find I've misunderstood or misremembered something I'd read. And discovering one is wrong about a battle, a date, a person's biography, etc, is a discipline. It puts a lid on my egotism. It reminds me that my tiny mind is so much smaller than I'd like to think. (Knowing one's unimportance is great since it relieves one of the responsibility for 'changing the world'.)

    And finally -- tied to this last comment -- I find solace in observing the motion of history knowing that that mysterious cabal (known as "We") don't control events. We are carried along by them. And millions of persons responding to their emotions and preconceptions and knowledge and illusions pivot around figures (e.g. Gandhi) who don't 'make history' but are caught up in it. Observing human history is sometimes like watching the herds migrating across the Serengeti Plain -- just plain interesting. Even if lions do eat some of the gazelles.....

    I have no clue what is relevant. In my own mind, I find things fascinating at 9 a.m. that are boring at 10 a.m. -- and vice versa. I guess it's interesting to simply observe myself investigating history and wonder 'why is he doing this'.... and to never answer that question.....
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    Oct 18 2011: Thomas, have you ever found yourself utilizing knowledge you had learned maybe a while ago, maybe so far behind, you didn't remember you knew that until that moment you had to use it?

    On the other hand I find it very interesting that things that were said and done many centuries ago, yet they continue to be valid and even the solution to challenges we see today.
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    Oct 18 2011: Think of it as learning from your mistakes. Despite how grotesque things in the past may have, without learning about such events and how other people were impacted how can you change or make progress from that to make sure it is eliminated or at least decreased.

    Lets say for example you were a mass serial killer. You then get locked up, then all of a sudden you come to realize that they life you've been living was indeed not the right way. You reflect on it, realize the pain that you caused and realize the position that you are in now. Now all of a sudden your encouraging other inmates to change their lives and your become a mentor instead of a killer. How did you make this change? by learning from you past..

    learning from History is really no different.
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    Oct 18 2011: To the first part of the question: Is history valuable in itself? Study of history is the study of evolution, a lot of what we do today has its seed in history. Including our architecture, art, science, religion etc. History can be seen as an extension of your experience lived or otherwise. if someone burnt their hand on a hot plate, we know from that persons history that it was a bad experience. Also if you extend history far enough it becomes evolutionary science and the big bang. Also a lot of people might just enjoy studying history.

    Second part of the question, should we concentrate on problem solving? well there's enough of us in the world to be doing all sorts of things. one doesn't preclude the other. in terms of degrees, i would personally look at problem solving first and see whatever we need to study to solve problems, if its the future so be it, but i think a lot of the time, it will involve studying the past.
  • Oct 18 2011: I believe that both are equal in term of importance. We should always look ahead and try to resolve the issues today to improve the world we live in and ensure that we pass on to the next generation a planet that they can use and that is not on the verge of physical, or moral, destruction.

    At the same time, I believe that history repeats itself, and that by studying the past, we can decipher the present and better plan for the future. Technologies and political lines change. The human has not changed much and the basic human nature has not evolved much in the last millennium.
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    Oct 17 2011: To get things rolling: Sir Richard Frances Burton's "Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina"; Patrick Leigh Fermor's "A Time of Gifts", Kiyosawa Kiyoshi's "A Diary of Darkness", Maurice Herzog's "Annapurna"..... just a few 'eyewitness accounts which seemingly have no relevance to 2011. Or do they? And what is 'relevance'?
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      Oct 18 2011: People learn from stories.
      Stories from afar, from different cultures and the names you list give us peek into the past which animates our imagination.

      Apart from this we can understand the world of today from the events that brought this into existence. If we want to avoid repeating the same mistakes all over again and again we need to look back. And most of all history is necessary for knowing who we are, it is part of our identity.

      Further personal stories reveal how people could cope under special circumstances or handle problems that gives any insight about the human mind.