Valentine’s Day catalyzes the contemplation of “love,” in all its varying varieties and definitions. As a PhD student of history you find you self-define by your “love” for a particular topic, perspective, and geographical region, but also by your “loved” number…the era of the past you are smitten by.
I had to find you … tell you I set you apart. – Coldplay
Dear true love, I’m a writer without words…when I’m without you. – Sleeping At Last
What some historians-in-training may not articulate to themselves, let alone say out loud, I’m saying to you know – we all have a type. Anyone of the discipline of history that tells you different is lying. Some like the prehistoric, the remote & almost untouchable. Fragmented, hard to read, evasive. Some are attracted to the Age of the Roman Empire. Full of ferocity, battles & bloodshed. All sharp edges and with a mysterious brooding…but that makes it all the more alluring. Some are tempted by Medieval History, charming in its traditionalism and devotion to honor. It is courtly and grand, which provokes them to grandly court the era themselves. Some are swept up by any of the famous revolutions: French, American, Russian, Scientific, Industrial. Attractive for the change they promise, the upheaval, the intoxicating visions of big dreams for change that draw them in. Some are taken by Recent History, something quite knowable, easily reachable, which doesn’t play hard-to-get. Something familiar, and comforting in its proximity to where they stand in the present day…And there is a wide variety in between.
I don’t have a choice, but I’d still choose you – The Civil Wars
There’s not a single day goes by where you don’t cross my mind – Arizona
Over the years, without knowing it (developing so slowly that I was head-over-heels before I knew I was even a foot-step deep), I have become captivated by the nineteenth century to inter-war years.
(That is my number, so call me…maybe.)
Looking back, I can see this infatuation has been long-rooted in my heart. It has catered my taste for movies, books, classical music, and art (Hudson River School, Impressionism, Romantic-a-la-Caspar-David-Friedrich). It has dictated my fondness (bordering on unhealthy obsession) with Austen, Bronte, Keats, Dickens, Muir, Poe, Frost, Rilke. It has produced an other-era longing in me to go back to a time when going by a carriage or on foot were still unsurprising choices for travel, reading by candlelight was not a whimsy but a regularity, and writing letters was still very much in vogue.
This love is killing me, but I want it to. – Little Green Cars
After all, you’re my wonderwall. -Oasis
Anyways, what I have been amused by my own internal, silent judgement on the taste of others historians-in-training for their choice of era. I just don’t get it you know? I mean, how could you waste time pursuing The Enlightenment or The Fall of Rome when Romanticism is standing right over there? Why bat your eyes at the French Revolution or the Reformation, when you can take a walk around the grounds with the Jazz Age and the final days of a Pre-Industrial Countryside? Why even consider 1970s or the Crusades, when you could date the US National Parks Movement?
I mean really.
I can already hear the others ruffle their feathers in offense and prepare their own defense of their era-love choices. I can hear them attack my own taste. After all, my era isn’t even an “era” some would say. There is the nineteenth or the twentieth century, or even the “long nineteenth century” (1789 – 1914), but the “nineteenth century to interwar years” isn’t an “era” as far as classifications of such things go.
But, whatever…they don’t know my era.
They don’t know me.
And the heart does what it wants.
Let’s grow old together and die at the same time. – White Lies
I’m never going to know you now, but I’m gonna love you anyhow. – Elliott Smith