No matter how entertaining I find history, I wrestle with the idea that I should find history important.
I enjoy history as a pursuit, as an entertainment. I love reading historical books, researching my armies, watching historical movies etc etc. I love revelling in former times, which always feel much more exciting times to live (though much more uncomfortable too!).
But do I find history important? No. Knowing the exact truth of minor details of history won’t have any effect on today’s lives, unlike other subjects such as medicine and science, where the difference between getting it exactly right and wrong can have huge impacts.
Some might say that the knowledge of history is important to shape and engage people of today. I think that is true in a sense. But it isn’t the knowledge of the exact details of history that shape and engage people – it is the myths passed down mouth-to-mouth and though TV, movies, novels, popular books and so on.
I contend that people’s views on, say, the Napoleonic Wars, are shaped by the myths passed down, and any effect that knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars has on modern life is based on those myths, not on the exact truth of details. In other words, ‘Story’ has much more effect than ‘Hi-Story’.
So knowing exactly when Prussian General Zeiten sent a message to the Duke of Wellington before the Battle of Waterloo, or who invented the artillery bricole (both subjects of ongoing acrimonious debates between some military historians) are not important. Knowing one way or the other won’t change the lives of me or anyone else on this planet. All they are is … interesting.
Yes, the historian’s job might be to find the truth (if they can!). But I think that is no more important to humanity than a novelist writing a fiction book. It is still fun, colourful, adds dimension to our lives etc – but it is not important.
This ethos of mine to the importance of history transfers into my ethos to historical wargaming: fun, period flavour, storyline, romance, colour, atmosphere, happily based on myth – but let’s not get too hooked on detail!