When Was History?

by JoHarrington

If historical people move like two-dimensional shadows through isolated events, then you're looking at them all wrong.

Pause for a moment and look around you. Fix this instant in your head.

What are you wearing? What can you see? Are there scents that waft past your nose? What can you hear? What can you touch?

What are you thinking right now?

You are living this single fragment of time, in all its glorious technicolor. This is real and, by the time you've finished, this is also history.

Clock at the Musée d'Orsay
Clock at the Musée d'Orsay

An Historic Moment of Our Own

The past can be well and truly alive, as long as you're looking in the right places and with the right frame of mind.

History can be so vast, so incomprehensibly epic, that it's difficult to pin it all down.

The people who lived it move through our minds like so many extras in a Hollywood film. They aren't real. They didn't have thoughts and feelings. They wore funny clothes.

It doesn't help that they are depicted flat or strangely rendered, on tapestries, statues or stylized portraits. That's only the rich and noble, considered worthies in their time. For the poor, ordinary folk, there's nothing to see at all. No pictures to put a face to a name, except maybe an anonymous blob in an artistic crowd scene.

Without empathy for any of the players, it's easy to place history as being a long time ago; and utterly divorced from the modern day. It didn't happen to us, nor anybody like us, so it's barely worth the time to imagine their world.

The reality is that it did. Right now, as I write, as you read, we are experiencing our very own historic moment. By the time we reach the end of the page, it will be all over, notable only for a short time in memory, then gone.

The past was as vivid for those who lived it, as this very second is for me and you. Those who stood on the field at Agincourt or sailed in the Mayflower to America experienced all the same emotions that we do. The whole scope of the human condition was laid out for them, as it is for us.

Until we view them as living, breathing individuals, each with their own story to tell, then they will remain dustily distant. We will never learn the lessons that they have to teach us; nor the patterns of the past that keep repeating.

When was history? It was then and it is now.

For History's Sake, Keep a Journal About your Day!

Diaries are one of the most valuable historic sources available. They give historians real life insights into the past.

Is History Dead When We Still Feel it?

Those who were there can take you by the hand and lead you into the past.

In around 600 CE, the kingdom of Gododdin was being threatened by invaders. A massive army of Celts amassed to try and repel the Angles of Deira and Bernicia.

The two sides met at the Battle of Catraeth, which is probably modern day Catterick in Yorkshire.

It was a decisive clash, from which the Germanic forces emerged victorious. The territory gained was merged under King Æthelfrith, as Northumbria.

Are you bored yet? Or merely thinking that it sounds a bit like a footnote from Lord of the Rings, without even the saving grace of Orlando Bloom? History will always sound like that, as long as it's a series of bland names, dates and a bit of information.

To really get at the heart of it, you need someone to step inside. You need to see through their eyes; feel as they felt; and know what it was like to really be there. Until we see the humanity, we cannot grasp the history.

Fortunately for us, if not himself, Aneirin was there. He was only one of four Celtic survivors and he witnessed it all. It was his friends who were being slaughtered on the battlefield. It was his hands and knees, which were being chafed under freezing cold iron cuffs.

He was so scared. He was also in shock, because he was just a bard and he should have been safe. He was bleeding. The enemy had attacked him, while he was playing a sacred song. Aneirin couldn't even begin to get his head around that one.

'My friend in real distress, we should have been by none disturbed..' Aneirin told us. Later, his testimony is so stunned, that he refers to himself in the third person, trying to distance himself from his recollection. 'Gwaws, the defenseless, the delight of the bulwark of battle, was slain. His scream was inseparable from Aneirin.'

He's also terrified about what this defeat will mean for his girlfriend back home. There's no-one between her and the bloodthirsty Angles now. Aneirin just wants to run away and be there for her, 'I am anxious about the maid - The maid that is in Arddeg.'

I defy anyone to read Y Gododdin without wanting to help him. As he passes from the numb reciting of his friends' names, through fear, shock, anxiety, defiance and surrender, every word still rings. This really happened to someone, who is still in deep physical, mental and emotional pain, as he tells his story.

At the moment when you want to rush in and save him, it doesn't matter that it happened 1,400 years ago. It's as vital and real as your emotions right now. History has come alive.

'The men went to Gododdin with laughter.' He recalled, then later wept, 'I could wish to have been the first to fall in Catraeth.'

As for relevance to today, you are reading this in English. Don't you think it might have been in Welsh, had the Celts won that day? Cymru am byth? Or, as Aneirin put it, 'When all fell, thou didst also fall.'

It's as great a testimony as any that the people in the past were as living, breathing and emotional, as we are right now.

Find Out What Happened to Aneirin at Catraeth

'Y Gododdin' is a true life, heart-breaking tale of the horrors of war. This eye-witness account will transport you into the 6th century, like it happened yesterday.

Everything in History is Relevant to Today

Forget about isolated incidents. Time doesn't work like that; and our clocks don't record chapters.
History is an on-going tale, which directly affects the modern day. Each event is part of a domino effect causing ripples across the world.
If you've ever wondered what the fourth dimension looks like, ask a historian. We live, breathe and work there.

I was inspired to write this page by a poll which featured in a previous article. I asked then, 'What do you consider to be a long time ago?' In truth, I was pleased by the results.

Out of a possible eleven options, none of them was greatly favored over the others. Votes were scattered across them all. Even those nosing ahead only achieved 17% of the overall tally and had to share that with two others.

To my mind, there was no right or wrong answer. History was all of the above and any other period, which I hadn't included. It stretches from the dawn of time, through the present and into the future.

As long as the consequences of each moment are still felt, or the stories from those present have the power to move us, then all of history is right now.

Moreover, each historical event can be viewed as just one of many starting points for the chronicles of today. That makes it the news headlines, last year's Justin Bieber hit, your childhood memories and a terrified 7th century poet being led in irons away from a massacre, all at the same time.

Welcome to history.

Do you want to write a history article for Wizzley, but don't know which sub-category to select? Help is at hand! This is your guide through the eras and ages there to explore.

Britain in the Sixth Century

Borders aren't as solid as they might seem. Stick this poster on your wall, as a handy reference to mainland Britain as it looked 1,500 years ago.
Map of Territory Controlled by Celts, Picts, Anglos, Saxons, and Other Tribes in Britain in 597 Ad
Updated: 11/17/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 09/18/2013

You too? Culloden is the only place from where I have literally fled. I had to go into the gift shop and look at plastic tourist crap, just to ground myself a lot. It's not a happy place.

But yes, seeing the history in a landscape or a building is where it's at. I'm with you on this one. Absolutely 100%.

frankbeswick on 09/18/2013

Some people manage to live without bothering with history, but I [and you, Jo] live and breathe it. I cannot help but see a place in historical terms, and it gives depths to my perception. When walking through a landscape I read the history written in it. Sometimes this can be difficult, because when I visited Culloden Moor I knew and felt too much to feel good.

JoHarrington on 09/18/2013

Awwww! Thank you very much. :)

cmoneyspinner on 09/18/2013

Nice lady! When it comes to history nobody does it better than you.

JoHarrington on 09/22/2012

Precisely! Mind you, I tend to look at all history as a series of biographies. In Welsh, we call history 'hanes', which translates as 'stories'. :)

Ragtimelil on 09/22/2012

Love it, love it!! That's why I love biographies. I guess you can't separate them out from history.

JoHarrington on 07/15/2012

I love finding old graffiti, though the example that you found was particularly sad. In Shakespeare's house, in Stratford-upon-Avon, there is graffiti on the wall dating back as far as the 17th century. There's perspex protecting it now!

JoHarrington on 02/10/2012

Thank you very much. :D

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