Wednesday, 6 June 2012

It’s history

houses

Do you ever end up in these embarrassing situations when you realise something you firmly believed is actually completely wrong? I did that a while ago when I realised that the bronze age, which in my mind always featured people sitting in caves holding clubs, in fact covered such great civilisations as the Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Greek. While this is faintly amusing, it's also quite embarrassing and says a lot about my knowledge of history.

I have always dreamt of having an expansive knowledge of history (which then automatically includes art, music, philosophy, politics, early science etc.). If somebody tells me about a poet who live at such and such a time, I want to have a rough idea of what else was going on at that time, which other people might have lived around then, what might have influenced him. Over the years, I have had lessons of course and on top of that, I have read a lot. Unfortunately, I have always considered myself to have an appalling memory. Dates and facts (and faces and names), trivial or important, rarely stick in my head longer than a few minutes.

Not willing to give up that easily, I have been looking for a way out. Although I have found a good way to study for university, at least as far as exams are concerned, it's just not practical to transfer this to an everyday level. So I have been reading about how our memory works in the hope of finding something to help me. A lot of it was faintly entertaining but a little useless. I don’t want to imagine myself wandering about my house every time I try to remember something or come up with a story that involves an elephant balancing on a banana while singing Elvis Presley. I just want to remember things.

Eventually, I came across some books that claimed that instead of thinking in a linear fashion, we form “webs” of knowledge and then cross reference a lot. To improve ones memory, one has to think a little in terms of a spider web: First, one has to make the basic strings and fix them to something solid. Then one can weave more and more details in between. To me, this made immediate sense and I think this is where my mistake has been: I tried to remember facts just in their own right, not linked to others, and they just disappear into the depth of my brain, never to be found again. It’s probably a bit like a computer without a filing system. They are there somewhere but god knows where.

So, lets see what my basic net labelled “World History” looks like. I warn you, this is going to be embarrassing as I am doing this entirely from memory:

  • very very long ago - Humans developed and sat in caves a lot
  • 500 BC - The Greeks are on the rise
  • 200 BC - The Romans take over
  • 00 - Baby Jesus is born. The Romans are still in power and I think the Egyptians are on their way out
  • 400 AD or so - Roman empire collapses
  • Dark Ages
  • Middle Ages
  • 1492 Columbus sailed to America ("Fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue ;))
  • 16th Century or so - Renaissance?
  • Early 18th century - Louis XIV is around, women wear elaborate dresses made of meters and meters of silk. Men war brightly coloured waistcoats with more embroidery than is good for them
  • 1789 - French Revolution, shortly followed by Napoleon's little games. Women wear something resembling nightgowns
  • early 19th Century - Crinolines and corsets are back, the former becoming huge and round
  • late 19th Century - Victorian Era including Queen Victoria of course. Imperialism is at its peak and the industrial revolution is in full swing. Skirt are swept back forming the iconic Victorian silhouette. Men start wearing something resembling today's Business suits.
  • Early 20th Century - Corsets and Crinolines disappear, Art Nouveau takes over.
  • 1914-1918 - WWI
  • 1920's - The Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Russian Revolution.
  • 1930's - The Nazis rise to Power
  • 1939-1945 - WWII
  • 1990s - End of the cold war, Germany is reunited

That's not even a spider web with holes in it. That’s holes separated by the occasional feeble thread. Of course there are many events and people I have heard of but I would not be willing to even hazard a guess as to the century, let alone the decade, they took place in.

Some of that knowledge came from school such as a long stretch on the Egyptians, followed by a bit on the Greek. My knowledge on the middle ages feels more like it came from novels than from a text book. At some point I changed school and caught the back end of a discussion about the Boer wars in Africa. The next thing I remember with some certainty is the foundation of Germany, followed by a very detailed study of the 20th century.I have supplemented the school lessons somewhat. I think I covered the French revolution in my French lessons here at university I also had a strong interest in costume history, as you can see by the fact that some centuries are entirely covered by what people wore at the time.

In the past, I have tried to rectify this by starting somewhere (usually with the Greek) and delving into their culture in some detail. This time, I'm not going to repeat the same mistake. I think the knowledge is there, it just needs to be dug out and tied together. Therefore, I will start broad instead of deep. I'm planning on finding 2-3 important events per century and putting them all on a timeline. These will form my basic strings, which I can then use to weave the net tighter and tighter afterwards.  I'll keep you posted on how it is going!

22 comments:

  1. What's even more embarrassing is that after a college prep high school, two university degrees, and 20 years of being in the education field, I wouldn't know if you were right or wrong! haha

    Glad to hear that this is important to you and that you are going to make it right for you. ;)

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    1. I'm sure it's not that bad ;)

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  2. Ahja, das war also die Bronzezeit? Faszinierend!
    Tja. Ungeachtet der Tatsache, dass einige Leute sich schlicht weigern mit mir Trivial Pursuit zu spielen, stelle ich bei deiner Auflistung fest: Ich habe keine Ahnung von Geschichte, gerade in Sachen Antike.^^ Das könnte man mal ändern... insofern finde ich deinen Ansatz großartig!

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    1. Hehe, mit mir spielt auch keiner Trivial Pursuit :D Ich habe mir schon vorgenommen hier von meinen Fortschritten zu berichten. Vielleicht kannst du dein Geschichtswissen dann auch gleich noch ein bisschen aufbauen ;)

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    2. Beim Lesen deines Blog gleichzeitig mein Englisch UND meine Geschichtskenntnisse zu trainieren, halte ich für fantastische Aussichten! :D

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  3. Oh, the bronze age myth, it has happend to all of us, believe me. We had this exact same eye-opening moment a year ago in one of my classes at Uni. The embarassing thing? I study history. So did everyone else in this class.
    Your web is pretty good actually, what people call the dark ages are a part of the middle ages but that's ok.

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    1. This is making me feel quite a lot better! Thanks for failing to realise this as well ;)

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    2. You're welcome :D It's great to see that my mistakes cheer others up :)

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  4. That's crazy! I never think like that on a day to day basis! I have absolutely never been interested in history (but more geography or science) so I've definitely created some little stories about things and am always completely flabbergasted when I find out the truth!

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    1. I do that as well! Slightly embarrasing when it turns out I'm completely wrong but often quite funny too. At least I manage to entertain my friends. ;)

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  5. Wow, this is the story of my life. I'm such a math minded person and have never been good in history. My roommate one year was a history major and would taunt me and ask me simple questions (which I very well should have been able to answer), but couldn't. I need to brush up on my skills as well, glad I'm not alone on this!

    xo Shane

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    1. Did you torture her back with fairly simple mathematical problems? Because I bed she wouldn't have been able to answer that and she might even have been proud of the fact that she is bad at math. This bothers me so much. Why is it acceptable to say you suck at math but saying you suck at writing is a bad thing? Surely we need both? This is one of my absolute pet hates.

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  6. ich finde das ist ein guter Ansatz. mir hilft es bei Geschichte, Epochen und ähnliches mit Personen, bzw. bestimmten Schicksalen zu verbinden. Dazu lese ich sehr viele historische Romane, wobei es da sehr viele schlechte gibt ;-)
    bei den zeitlichen Verbindungen zwischen Römern, Ägyptern und Jesu Geburt finde ich es recht hilfreich Julius Cäsar anzuschauen. Da dieser der 1. römische Kaiser war, muss er vor Jesus gelebt haben, denn da gab es ja den Kaiser Augustus ("Es begab sich aber zu der Zeit, dass ein Gebot von dem Kaiser Augustus ausging,...").
    Cäsar war jedoch auch derjenige, der ein Kind mit dem letzten ägyptischen Pharao hatte (das Wort Pharaonin gibt es nicht ;-) ), nämlich Kleopatra.
    also weiß man jetzt schon mal, dass Ägypten einige Zeit vor dem Jahre 0 römische Provinz wurde.

    ich hoffe das kam jetzt nciht irgendwie besserwisserisch rüber, sondern als ein Versuch zu helfen.
    wenn ich dir gute historische Romane empfehlen kann, dann schreib mich ruhig auf NuS an (Talia)

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    1. Nein garnicht! Das ist genau die Art und Weise, wie ich von jetzt an Geschichte lernen möchte. Du benutzt ein Datum als Aufhänger (Hier Jesu Geburt) und verbindest dann eine Reihe anderer Erignisse und Personen mit diesem einen Datum. Ich würde einfach gerne noch ein paar mehr Daten sammeln weil es mir zu ungenau wird, wenn ich mich zu weit von einem bekannten Datum entferne.

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  7. @bronze age:

    There are many intersting buildings from the bronze/stone age in great britain:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silbury_Hill

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avebury

    and of course Stonehenge.

    Near Avebury (???) there is another stone arrangement, which suggests that the constructor where doing integer calculations including multiplication. But I was there 30 years ago, so I forgot the exact name of this smaller monument.

    So you could travel during your year.

    @ And the basic technique for constructing walls of houses in Germany was the same from 4000 BC (stone age) until around 1850 AC. Even in the neolithic age there was far reaching trade over 100 or 1000 kilometers. There are lot of interesting museums in great britain.

    Transport of the blue stones of Stonehenge:
    http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/projects/wiltshire/boscombe/bowmen/stonehenge_bluestones.html

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    1. I have to admitt that I have never even been to Stonehenge yet. In my defence: I tried. "The day we almost went to Stonehenge" has become a bit of a legend around here. I am determined to make another attempt though and travelling around englands heritage sights is an excellent idea!

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  8. I think this is more common than most people would think. My world history is pretty rough too - the other day I realized that I didn't know a whole lot about World War 1, and that wasn't even *that* long ago in the scheme of things!

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    1. I might just be surrounded by unusual people. I admittedly don't pick the average people to measure myself against though. Where would be the fun in that ;)

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  9. Great articel! Do you recommend any books for effectively learning or Apps? I know there where Apps for reading on the apple store.

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    1. I'm not really sure. For the moment, I'm using good old flash cards and wikipedia. I have considered looking into some apps though but I haven't had time yet. I will let you know when I get there.

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  10. Danke für deinen tollen Post. Ich finde so ein Netz ist die absolut beste Art, sich ein Bild von der Welt zu machen, denn so viele verschiedene Sachen passierten gleichzeitig, obwohl wir uns dessen gar nicht bewusst sind. Das liebe ich auch an meinem (zukünftigen) Beruf (ich studiere Kunstgeschichte). Man bekommt ein so komplexes Bild von Geschichte, sozialer Entwicklung, Kulturtransfer etc. Und je länger man sich damit beschäftigt desto mehr Anknüpfungspunke findet man. Ich fand es z.B. total faszinierend, dass es seit der Renaissance komplexe weltumspannende Handelsnetze gibt und man hat in bronzezeitlichen (;-) ) Königspalästen Bernsteinskulpturen von der Ostsee gefunden. Von wegen wir leben im Zeitalter der Globalisierung.
    Und auch wenn ich absolut kein Freund von Zahlen bin, zwei Daten gehören noch in deine Aufzählung: 800: Krönung Karls des Grossen zum Kaiser und 1517: Reformation.
    Und Trivial Pursuit könnte ich auch meist alleine spielen, mein Freund macht nur mit, weil er weiss dass ich nicht eher Ruhe geb *gg*

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    1. Oh, da fehlen definitiv noch mehr als zwei Daten in der Aufzählung aber die von dir genannten müssen auf jeden Fall in die endgültige Liste. Danke!

      Die Querverbindungen sind in der Tat wahnsinnig spannend. Ich verstricke mich dann allerdings gerne in den Details und verliere den Überblick.

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