Don’t Know Much About History…

I thought it would be a simple matter to make the jump from King John to Richard II. And then I ran into the 100 Years War, the Black Plague, the rise of chivalry, the Peasant’s Revolt, the growing power of parliament…eh, boy.

The decision to use Shakespeare’s historical plays as a springboard into English history has turned out to be a monumental decision with life-changing ramifications. My entire sense of the period between the fall of Rome and the flourishing of the Italian Renaissance has now been irrevocably changed.

I have no idea how a reasonably educated person with a Bachelor’s degree in German and a Master’s in the Great Books could have escaped these crucial concepts. I mean, I studied Western Civ as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon and UCLA. But somehow the meaning of it all, how it tied together escaped me.

To repeat: yes, I knew about the majority of these ideas individually. I recall cramming for tests on Medieval history that included the 100 Years War and Peasant’s Revolt. But I couldn’t tell you then and surely didn’t remember now what started them, what they were about, or why they remain important to this day. Or how the Magna Carta led indirectly to the rise of parliament and that the Church had been fractured long before the Protestant Reformation. Maybe I just needed distance. And maturity. And not to be forcing it down my own throat for an exam.

I used to think the Dark Ages were pretty much “dark” until the rediscoveries of the Renaissance and scientific revolution. Now I know that the process was much different, that changes were occurring all along, and that the thread did not run exclusively through continental Europe.

I have a lot of work to do! I’ll pick up with my reading of Richard II just as soon as I have a grasp on the context of what’s going on during that period.

This is the reason we must revolutionize education and make it more integrated, synergistic, chronological and contextual. Whoever came up with the notion of isolating subjects and teaching them as individual units must have pioneered the assembly line. There’s just no way you can really understand — truly comprehend — the sweep, scope and overall meaning of art, science, philosophy, poetry, music, you-name-it without invoking the gestalt, the zeitgeist, the (why isn’t there a proper English word for this?) Great Conversation of history.

Okay, enough of my spiel. At least you got the great Sam Cooke out of it. šŸ™‚

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