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History: Putting the “Travel” in Time Travel

March 13, 2013
When Maddy and I graduated from college nearly a year ago, we left with one of the best possible combinations for two travel enthusiasts, in this author’s opinion. The way I see it, there are a few degrees that cover essentially the same subject, and differ mostly just in the scope. We may call them by different names, but I think my co-author and I both majored in the same thing: the study of people. Or if you want to be fancy and greek about it, anthro (people) and ology (study). Anthropology, if you will.
Wait, no… that’s not right…
Well, in a sense, it is. But that’s just one in a part of my (patent pending) scale of the four human studies, with each covering the same topic on an increasing scope.
  1. Psychology. Maddy’s BA. The study of the individual.
  2. Sociology. The study of multiple individuals.
  3. Anthropology. The study of the culture those individuals create.
  4. History. My BA. The study of multiple cultures interacting.
Not that any field can’t make you a better traveler, since the way I see it, the more you know about the world the more you can appreciate it. And admittedly my definition is a little flawed in other ways, too, since history is really about past cultures. The modern version would probably be political science. But politics and culture, while intertwined, are far from the same thing. And I guess a psychologist could study the differences between the thought processes of people from one culture versus another, and a historian could spend their whole career focusing on a single period, so the scale part isn’t quite right either… but I’ll have none of this “logic” hogwash slowing me down. It’s my blog post – I’ll say what I want. Maybe there’s a reason the patent hasn’t actually been approved yet. But if a field of study focused on understanding the interconnected nature of cultures over time and space isn’t relevant to global citizenship, then I don’t know what is, so on we go under the assumption that I have at least a tiny idea of what I’m talking about. Anyway, since according to my model the two of us fall on opposite ends of this supposed spectrum, I think that makes us a pretty good team. (Shout out to Maddy: you should do a post on how psychology influences your interest in travel!)
Experiencing a new culture! In this case, post Black Death Italy. Too bad they didn't have passports to stamp back then.

Experiencing a new culture (aka finals week)! In this case, post Black Death Italy. Too bad they didn’t have passports to stamp back then.

Because isn’t that what travel is really all about? Going to see different cultures? I suppose seeing the sites is part of it, and you could go summit Everest or visit the Grand Canyon and dive the Great Barrier Reef. And don’t get me wrong; the Seven Natural Wonders of the World are absolutely on my destinations wishlist. But if you were to visit all of them and never interact with any of the people there, wouldn’t that feel a little hollow? I love me some majestic geography, and it’s one of the reasons I love my home in the Pacific Northwest. But when it comes to travel, meeting new and interesting people and experiencing those cultures is one of the things I look forward to the most.
And that’s where my love of history comes in. For all the cultures we can experience by getting on a plane, Mayan or Zulu or Carolingian culture are not among them. And that’s why I spent four years studying the subject. Because I’m a traveler, and I’m not going to let that fact that I live in the 21st century stop me from visiting them in the bet way I can.
On top of that, when I do seize the chance to travel in the more physical sense, it’s like I’m visiting a dozen different cultures all at once, all temporally layered on top of one another. I got to see the busy Tokyo metro, then step outside and catch a glimpse of a Kamakura era wall or an Edo pagoda, and to me they all tell different stories. When I go into a museum I’m not looking at an old pottery shard so much as through it and into the cultures and people on the other side of that window. If you like travel, try time travel. It’s not quite as flashy in real life as it is in the movies, but if you look at history through the same eyes as you do foreign countries, you might just get some of the same things out of it.
Don't just think of the building - think of all the interesting people who used to live in it!

Don’t just think of the building – think of all the interesting people who used to live in it!

But I understand that a book will never be quite the same as really visiting and being able to meet the people and see not just the buildings but the vibrancy of life among them. I recently got a job at in my home state of Washington working in what’s called a living history museum. It’s our attempt to recreate historical periods as faithfully as possible, to give people a chance to visit (in my case) a fourteenth-century English village the same way you would any other destination. There are others that focus on Colonial America, different periods in Medieval Europe, and I’m sure more that I have yet to learn about. It’s a little bit of a novelty, I’ll grant you, but in true living history museums the researchers put a lot of effort into what they do, and in that sense it really is like interacting with a culture that no longer exists. And I think that’s an opportunity any devoted traveler would jump at.
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