Oh history, how I love thee

History and story telling, closer to my heart than anticipated

I am not sure where my love for history started.

Maybe because there is a lot of storytelling involved.

Maybe I am inherently curious about how things came to be. I would really love to pin down a point in my early life (I am promise you I am not that old) where it was an AHA! moment where I fell in love with history, but I am beginning to realize that it was probably somewhere where history and story telling became indistinguishable from each other.

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My first introduction to history. Bitch, I am the fabulous Sun King, Louis XIV. LOUIS QUATORZE!

My earliest memory of history was in my dreaded public school years, specifically in the French part of Switzerland (to those new to this blog, I’ve written about that awesome experience in the previous blog post). There was this one shinning moment in those dreadful years where my curiosity was piqued. The history teacher (who was my mentor and who helped me get into the private school that changed my life) opened my eyes to history with a simple story or fact that he came across as he prepared for the lessons. He said that back in the old days, we were studying about Louis XIV – LOUIS QUATORZE (ahh memories of saying his name in French…) he explained that most people in the French court would shit anywhere they pleased and wipe themselves with anything, especially behind curtains and use said curtains to wipe themselves. They had no bathrooms in the Palaces and they had tons of servants to clean up the messes. Here you can find more information on Reddit about the filthy lives of Versailles court yo.

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No, it wasn’t the nastiness of that information that piqued my curiosity, it was more like a “Wow, that’s what they did in the past… They were naasty and batshit crazy – PLEASE TELL ME MORE!”. It sparked an interest for the past, thinking about how different their lives were in comparison to mine. More importantly, this teacher told us a story based on facts, on toilet etiquette, from the past and infused it with his passion and interest for the subject itself. When you witness someone passionately talking about any subject matter, even about shit, it captivates you and that’s what it did for me.

Knock, knock. Who is it? Hi. Hi who? HIstory.

It took me a while to understand that I loved history. For one thing, back in public school, the language, specifically French and to a lesser degree German, made it harder for me to connect with what was taught in class (my mother tongue is English). It seemed like there was an opaque filter that muddied and clouded my ability to fully grasp and embrace (any information, but more importantly) history.

And I realize now that I’ve been using the word history a little too vicariously because it is as vast as the universe, you can study the history of ANYTHING for this matter. Let me clarify, so far my favorite histories are Colonial America, Russian, WWI, WWII and some fascination for Victorian and Edwardian period dramas and their fashion…

When I switched schools, more like ditching the Swiss public school system for an international English education, I turned into a famished fiend devouring the unfiltered and raw information about history (and yes other subjects too).

The right teacher makes the difference

I was blessed with many shitty teachers in my life, many who pulled me down but also a few that pulled me back up. The ones who pulled me down were mostly math teachers, but that is beside the point.

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However, something about history teachers and professors captured my attention.

Now to the most anticipated part of this post where I immediately fell in love with history.

It was all thanks to my history teacher.

That man was amazing.

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Paul O’Connell. The resemblance is uncanny, especially when my history teacher was displeased with how we did stuff in class.

He was a fiery Irishman, who on the weekends went to Rugby training and came back the day after with scratches on his arms and sometimes bruises on his face.

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My history teacher looked more like that most of the time… I still  found him intimidating, I am sorry >.>

 

Maybe he would get into bar fights in his spare time, who knows, I am not judging but just imagine that bulky and tall man with a strong gaze, unleashing his passion for history. He made the subject fun and captivating which was something so foreign to me because I always thought class was supposed to be boring, but damn that man, I couldn’t wait to get back to class and listen to him in awe as he spoke so animatedly about “Bloody Sunday” of 1905, the Russian Revolution, WWI, WWII and even the stale Cold War. He injected personal tales here and there to get the class focused and even prepared for the subject he was about to teach.

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That’s maybe an accurate depiction, except the blood and bandages were gone, but bruises were still there. It made me wonder if he really was doing Rugby on the weekends…

He pushed me to think out of the box, pushed me to improve my academic writing, pushed us to write a 3-page essay in 30-45 minutes (it was in preparation for IGCSE and A-levels for the British system, I was aiming to attend a UK university at some point, but obviously I went the other direction, probably to his dismay). He challenged us to DIVE into the subject doing projects and in-depth research of for instance the Trench war in WWI.

Now fast forward to college.

I started my first semester, my freshman year, in college with American history after the Civil War til the present. The subject was interesting, the professor was great but it wasn’t the right era just yet. It was halfway through college (after having a kid and taking a 2-year break) I had to take a history preparation course to write a 20 page thesis to complete my major.

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Boston massacre. Engraved by Paul Revere. We spent hours studying the picture and coming up with conspiracy theories of who started the whole thing.

The professor that happened to teach that course sucked me into the exciting era of the American revolution, he started with the Boston massacre and he conjured up colonial newspaper articles and drawings depicting the scene. We had to look at the court case that followed suit led by John Adams. That is where I found the subject that I am passionate about. With the same interest and passion like my fiery history teacher, he swept me into the world of the American revolution giving insights into some of the main players and exposing me to wonderful books and great historians. I signed up to all his American revolution classes and loved it! Inspired by his class on the Revolutionary New York, I wrote my thesis on Fort Lee, the fort called after Charles Lee which was abandoned after the British were chasing General Washington’s forces through New Jersey. Also because of him I was able to do an internship at a museum that happened to do an exhibit on the American revolution set in New York (it was an incredible coincidence, or fate, who knows).

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Forcing a passage of the Hudson River. Three ships HMS Phoenix, Roebuck and Tartar fighting a blockade that was stationed between Fort Washington and Fort Lee.

Confidence-building comes from within

I understand when people tell you not to mind or not to listen to those negative and discouraging words of teachers (in other words, bullies, because damn I had plenty). I admire people who can actually ignore their words and fight on, but someone like myself whose confidence was on such shaky grounds that she feared the slightest confrontations with these authority figures (and bullies) and who saw these assholes on a daily basis in class – it was not easy not to mind what they said. It was always a reminder how pathetically weak and unworthy I was.

Yes, I know, at this point you might be thinking, wow Jeanne is blaming all her failures on shitty teachers, shitty school system and other factors than herself, delusional escapism much? It’s a yes and no for me. In the end, I realized that also a lot of the confidence-building has to come from within and I wished I had realized that sooner. It is always nice to receive external recognition and notice, I see it in my daughter and I see it in myself, it is an innocent child-like quality that still remains with us as we grow into adulthood and beyond. We thirst for attention, we thirst for a pat on the shoulder, there is nothing wrong with that because that makes us feel good, feel appreciated and loved, but sometimes we turn that gratification into the be-all and-end-all of our purpose or our character.

While it’s nice to give others credit for your success, it is also important not to forget yourself. All personal achievements in my life took courage and created the necessary confidence for me to propel my life forward.

So everybody, don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the shoulder! You’ve come so far in your life! Give yourself some love because you deserve it.

 

 

 

 

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