I’m always stunned when I hear people say they don’t like history. To be honest, I’m not even sure what this means. How can you not like something that is so vast and far reaching? Nowadays, history also includes sociology and anthropology. So, saying that you don’t like history is a bit like saying you don’t like food.
History is the connective tissue that links events together. History is every idea that every was. Without it, how would we understand the broader developments that shaped our lives? Being able to think historically, that is — being able to interpret the raw data of history using narrative, imagination and understanding — expands our understandings of society, politics, and the economy to name just a few. Important stuff given the times we live in, no?
For more on the subject check out this book.
If you’re like me, then you have a mother who arrives for Sunday dinner with at least three cut out newspaper articles (neatly affixed with paperclips), free pamphlets from recent art exhibitions (in a myriad of languages in the event that you have the urge to read about the Norton Simon Museum’s latest installment in French or Greek), and 5-9 pages of typed notes on recent historical facts that she has been reading about over the course of the week. Mind you, in addition to having both a Masters in Humanities and a PhD from NYU (re. the politics of poetry in the work of Seamus Heaney), my mother is also the President of the Las Angelitas del Pueblo Organization. There’s no shortage of smarts where she’s concerned.
However, lately she’s been threatening to stop watching TV for a year; though she wonders how she’ll manage without Judge Judy and Stacy and Clinton from whom she refers to as “my friends”. My stepfather thinks it’s madness mostly because he would have to give up Judy, but he does argue – rightly so – her giving up TV would mean we would be awash in typed memos. Like the recent eight page doozy on Neolithic towns that she handed me last week.
Here’s a small snippet. I’ve included her notes verbatim in bold. My comments are in ital. Continue reading
While some people have a favorite movie star that they obsess about, I mentally stalk intellectuals. For years, my go to guy was Harold Bloom the mac daddy of critical thinking. And yes, Bloom is still a brilliant bloated star in all ways; but in the last year I’ve ventured out of the cushy confines of lit crit and into the bubbling cauldron of anthropology which was where I found my new favorite intellectual Ian Tattersall…
Like Bloom, Tattersall is a Yalie (he’s also English which is always a plus for me), however unlike Bloom he is also a paleoanthropologist and a biological anthropology curator at the American Museum of Natural History (you have him to thank for the refurbished Hall of Human Origins). His work on human evolution is brilliant – from Lemurs to Bones and Genomes, to Extinct Species, to Neanderthals… More than that it’s compulsively readable – check out The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE for a great starting point or Bones, Brains and DNA if you have young kids.
But the best reason to like Ian Tattersall is that he’s a nice guy who takes time out of his busy schedule to help others (and by others I mean me). Case in point: He gave me great notes for a children’s book on evolution that I am working on. Even better, he also convinced me that Neanderthals didn’t have language*. When was the last time someone convinced you of that?
*Apparently their larynx was situated too high up in their throats to allow for proper interaction with the hyoid bone – which is how we are able to speak.
On a recent trip to NYC, I spotted this drawing by my favorite Puerto Rican, Cornell educated graffiti artist James De La Vega. I realize De La Vega’s mantra ‘become your dream’ is becoming sort of gimicky – sort of like Jenny Holzer’s truisms – but I still smile when I stumble across his stuff. This one was written on the side of a broken bookshelf that was just sitting on 94th Street by a pile of trash.
I personally think some forms of graffiti qualify as art, though here’s an essay that really argues the point.
One of my favorite street artists is TiTo na Rua – I love his stuff. Just amazing. His green drummer boy kills me.