Sir Walter Scott once said: “Look back and smile on perils past.”
You can make what you want of that quote; he may simply have been urging us to take pleasure in surpassing any disturbing or difficult times, which we may have endured. But, I tend to believe, what with Scott’s fondness of times gone by; he was urging us to look not only within ourselves, but at the past collectively.
History is a fascinating and truly captivating subject, but it makes me wonder, what about the history we are creating? Will it be as enthralling as that of our ancestors? Will our descendants look back in awe at what we have achieved?
Something tells me, that in the future, our time will be looked on as ultimately boring. And here is why: Information is meticulously documented now and has been for decades really. Even more so since Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web. That will surely be a huge talking point for historians in the future. The thing is everything is recorded in detail to the nano-second nowadays.
Historians of the future will be able to play video of events, saying exactly who was where, when, and why each and every event they decide to study happened. Which is great for educational purposes, however, won’t be so great for the imaginative people of our future, or the argumentative who love nothing more than a good debate.
You see, that’s what history is about, at least for me anyway, and the wonder and mystery adds to the romanticism of it all. Stories such as the one about the great Carthaginian commander Hannibal, who during the second Punic War marched an army and war elephants over the Pyrenees and the Alps into northern Italy. Or the legend of outlaw Robin Hood, who is said to have defied the kingdom by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Sure, there is no way of telling whether Robin Hood was a myth or the real deal, but again it’s the mystery that’s so appealing about the story.
There are historians of the past, Herodotus (the father of history) of Ancient Greece, Tacitus the Roman historian, who wrote of Britain: “Who were the original inhabitants of Britain, whether they were indigenous or foreign, is, as usual among barbarians, little known. We can follow the texts of these famous historians from our past and many others like them, but really it’s up to us to imagine what life was like for our ancestors. In the future, all it will take is the touch of a button and our descendants will be able to watch the things we were doing, it will all be there visually for them, to take in and decipher.
The way I see it is that’s a rather boring way to view history and I’m not sure whether that would make Sir Walter smile.