It’s easy to think of history as “things that happened to someone else, most of them now long dead.” Most history has to be studied in that way. Time moves in linear fashion and education lends itself to macro-scale views.
But history is also the cumulative experiences of one person at a time. millions of unique lives combining to create the ebb and flow of tribes, cities and nations. Viewed from a great enough distance they combine into large-scale events, such as “Allied soldiers in World War II.” Break that down a little more, and you have the landing at Normandy. Close in farther still and you see only a single boat, and if you look more closely still you will find a man named Horace. Or Edward. Or John. A man with a family left behind, who will or will not ever see him again.
John is history, as is his platoon, his boat and the events at Normandy. That’s an easy thing to forget when you pick up a three-inch book about World War II (or the Trail of Tears, or China under the Jin). The large events that tie us together were lived through the eyes of one person at a time. The small memories, no matter how humble and plain, form the warp and weft of the tapestry upon which large events take place. And like a tapestry, individual threads are often lost in the scale of the finished work, but let even a few unravel and the effect on the whole can be seen.
Take a minute today to consider the history you might not have noticed before. Find a single thread and take the time to stop and stare. Take a look at your own. You may not think you’re living history, but if you’re reading this on your own you’ve seen the first African-American President of the United States (and probably participated in the election, regardless of how you cast your vote). You can hold a computer in your hand. When you go to sleep tonight you turn out an electric light that would have amazed the history of a hundred years ago – as much as you’re amazed to think they ground wheat for their bread by hand.
What history have you witnessed today, in macro or micro form? Hop into the comments and let me know.