Sunday, May 6, 2012

History, as events and actions

Probably the most famous definition of politics, in part because of its vagueness, is Lasswell's definition that politics is "Who gets what, when and how." Politics is tethered to history, something that one of my teachers at Marymount drilled into me. Any firm grasp of history has to start with understanding the basics at the political level of the time in question.

By twisting Lasswell's wording, we can also get a good, basic definition of history: "Who does what, when and how." In short, one of the keys to understanding history is actions (which include major events, such as battles and wars.) Basic doesn't make it wrong, and in fact, is probably the best way to get your bearings on history.

Answer what was done gets today in history segments. Many of the artifacts and displays in a museum are designed around explaining the events to you. Paintings capture historic moments, while some might slightly sensationalize them, the general feeling is to capture the moment. While, probably within the past sixty years or so, there has been a much more concerted effort at social history and studying ethnic groups, for most of history, what has been looked at are the movers and shakers and the way things happened.

Which is why, at the most basic level, history is a chronology of events. There is no use doing an ethnic study of African-Americans in 1870s America without understanding the surrounding events and actions that will influence that study. Reading Samuel Pepys diary is all well and good, but it certainly helps to ground yourself in English history to understand what it is he is saying.

Before we even get into people's biographies, we try to set the stage of their lives. Even looking at the small scale of this blog, when we talked about the America's greatest enemy and the various enemy generals America fought, none of it makes sense without the context that the events give to them. Not knowing about Washington being named Britain's greatest enemy, for example, leads to confusion for the rest of the posts.

This isn't to say the why isn't important. But, the why is usually the most contested part of history. No one ever questions how the American Revolution ended or who fought on which side with what weapons. But people will bicker over why things happened. So, ignore the why at the start. When you start any historical discussion or reading, remember that you are looking first for the facts: Who did what, when and how?"



Here is the updated Write d20 Ideas list:

1. Everyday heroes as PCs
2. Why writing comic books is hard
3. Why comedy is harder than drama
4. Making magic magical
5. Post a link to a short story; describe the writing and editing process
6. Playing ethical villains
7. Play a random song on Pandora; write a short fiction piece using lyrics from the song.
8. Making fantasy travel fantastic
9. Unity of purpose (in writing fiction)
10. Unity of purpose (in designing table top adventures)
11. Applying history to your table top adventures
12. Popular history is still history
13. Using history in other disciplines
14. History, as people and interactions
15. History, as movements and reactions
16. Living History: What Our Memoirs May Look Like
17. Why modern politics is not history (Yet!)
18. Historical perspective: the Internet
19. Why I studied history: True stories are important
20. Why I studied history: Case studies in success and failure

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