Yep, I’m a History Nerd

. . . I got excited to see that Ole Benedictow has updated his book on the Black Death. The new book is only 1060 pages! On the other hand, it is priced, ahem, where you’d expect his publisher to price it, so I’ll stick with my “merely” 600 page older edition.

. . . I was asked “What’s your favorite time period?” and I started to reply “environmental history,” which isn’t a time period. I settled on “I don’t have one, really.” I’ll devour environmental history from pretty much any era, any continent, and any sub-field, although water history is always my first love.

. . . I caught myself critiquing the casting of a movie because one character looked too old and another was too much like his historical counterpart. Then I remembered “This is the late 1600s. These guys are all adults and then some!” And I giggled, because . . . the wigs. Oh, the wigs. Yep, very late 1600s – 1700s. You really do get a sense for the overstuffed formality of the Habsburg Court. (The film is the Italo-Polish production The Day of the Siege, about Vienna in 1683. It’s not quite what I expected, but it works.)

. . . I can almost justify more Sabaton stuff because “It’s historical.” Almost.

. . . I have strong opinions about certain periods of history, and certain schools of historical philosophy. And will go on at painful length about them unless stopped by an outside force, or all my listeners fall asleep on their plates.

. . . Yes, I read all of it. And of that one too. I’m still working on that one (600 pages or so left to go).

. . . I forget that normal people don’t get wildly excited about new translations or publication of documents from [obscure historical period or location].

. . . I’ve said, “I need to fill that hole” at least once a year for the past decade or two, and I’m not talking about the yard and gardens. Thus books on the economic history of China, the environmental history of China, environmental history of Africa, the one on preColumbian landscapes and environmental management of California, the comparative frontiers of South Africa and the US West and Mexico, and an intellectual history of Communism. Most of them I’ve finished reading, a few still need to be finished.

. . . I read geology and archaeogenetics as escape reading. Along with fiction.

. . . My recommendations on are, let us say, eclectic and heavy on obscure histories that look really fascinating. (We will not discuss shipping costs.)

I think, at this point, I’m hopeless. Which comes as no surprise to anyone who has set foot in my house and seen the two stacks of “I’m in the process of putting them back” books by the front door. One stack of which has sat for so long that I need to take them back to school, because we’re going to be starting that topic again soon! Oops.


19 thoughts on “Yep, I’m a History Nerd

  1. Benedictow’s book looks interesting, as long as it is in English! The only other language I read is mathematics. “Mama, are there pictures?”

    • Benedictow’s book is in English. I hadn’t heard of his work until the prof who does the Black Death on the Great Courses/Teaching Company series mentioned him. And then the academic review of his updated edition came out last week. He’s added rebuttals of critics, and a lot of the new archaeological and environmental material.

      • I am a science nerd. Does Benedictow examine the genetic sequencing of ancient Y. pestis samples? I just did a search on that topic and fell down a Google rabbit hole.

  2. The image from Covid that will stick with me, is of self-proclaimed intellectuals having to rent shelves of books as video props.
    (Although I guess it puts David Brooks “I once read Burke*, and can’t shut up about it” into perspective.)

    *I know I read him, but don’t remember a bit of it.

  3. Wow, and I thought I was bad with books

    But these days, I tend to read almost entirely fiction. There is so much stupid in the world today that I need to escape from to survive.

  4. (Chuckles) That explains cat triangulation – “You are done. Attend to me!”, rather like a Hapsburg Grand Duchess.

    I slowed down on historical-physical: don’t need for Day Job (also ticked off people by destroying their cotton candy idea foundations with it), and Day Job became too real and too fictional simultaneously. Fiction lets me bleed off energy elsewhere or elsewhen.

  5. Fellow environmental history fan! *Cheers*

    …I’m currently trying to find good English-language histories on Korea pre-1900s. I have a few wishlisted, just need to save for them – did see an interesting one that might help fill in one of your mentioned holes?

    Also this one might be cool.

    • I’ve looked at the second book. It may be on my wish list, but it’s been a while. _Everlasting Flower: A History of Korea_ by Keith Pratt is a good overview, but it has no maps. It also spends a fair amount of time in the 20th century. I have not looked specifically at Korea as far as hole filling, because China takes up more space in the survey class, so I have to learn more about China first.

  6. Geek test– does the idea of someone going into exhaustive length on a subject you know little about make you interested, or run away?

    (My test is roughly “do they take questions from non-geeks, or from unexpected angles, as a personal affront or as a chance to show the cool neat shiny toy some more?” If the latter, YAY!!!)

    • That would depend on whether or not it’s a subject I’m already interested in.

      I’m a history nerd of sorts. My area of interest is … um, well, pretty much any time between the Cambrian Explosion and the rise of Rome. Dinosaurs, the history of life, evolution, dinosaurs, historical geology, evolutionary theory, dinosaurs, the evolution of hominids, genetics, how genes get turned into whole organisms, and did I mention dinosaurs? Special attention given to any source that can make these subjects come alive – like trying to replicate feats of ancient engineering and realizing “wow, those folks were pretty damn capable, to be able to do ALL THAT with only muscle power, hand tools, arithmetic, and maybe animal-drawn carts and wagons.”

      • The trick of using logs to work like wheels is just freaking awesome, too! I was able to use it a couple of times in real life.

        I can’t remember the proper term, but you have at least three or four logs, so that they’re holding up whatever you’re rolling. You just have to get one log under it, and then you can roll the rest of (big, heavy thing) on to the rest– roll it forward, when the heavy thing gets off of one log, grab it and run around to the front.

        Even was able to modify it by putting boards under the tires of a cart, and basically dragging a road along with us when the wheels sank in too much to stay on the ground.

        It’s COOL!

        • I saw that done with a 40′ Conex container, though they were using well-casing pipes instead of the logs. Lets you do some amazing things, including getting the container in places the truck wouldn’t fit.

        • Now you’ve got me wondering if that “rolling it on logs” trick was actually the genesis of the wheeled cart. Doesn’t seem like that big a mental leap to go from “three or four large logs under (big heavy thing)” to “two cutout sections of one log at each end of (big heavy thing), connected by a smaller piece that also supports (big heavy thing)” – ie, wheels and axles.

          • It’s possible. The same region where the cart first appeared is where Gobleki Tepe and other Neolithic stone things were built (Levant – Mesopotamia), and the area was more forested than today.

    • My children regard it as their solemn duty to keep me away from such stimuli.
      (It’s boring, and I’m embarrassing. Worse, I’m ignoring them, and might insist they learn something. Oy vey. They’re bright, but not inquisitive, and it drives me farking nuts.)

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