I never could understand why so many people have an aversion to history. Throughout school many other students I knew thought history was boring and useless information, not to be taken seriously or of any substantial use in the "real world." I couldn't disagree more and even when I was a child, the topic of history was one that held a special attraction.
When I was a kid I loved anything related to ancient Egypt. Thinking back, I believe this particular passion was molded by Hollywood's version of ancient Egypt, specifically movies such as The Ten Commandments and Cleopatra. I loved watching films about this period of time, mostly because they featured fabulous costumes (I especially loved how all the Egyptian characters were dressed in The Ten Commandments), dramatic battles scenes and theatrical religious ceremonies to fearsome gods with the heads of animals. My fascination with anything Egyptian continued throughout childhood (as one can imagine, not many of my little friends shared my enthusiasm for books on the reign of Amenhotep III) but eventually this diminished and I focused on other things that most kids my age were into in the '70's. Such as the latest records by Queen or Kiss.
When I started college I thought I wanted to go into Hotel and Restaurant Management (don't ask). That went out the window quickly and then I became a Journalism major. Then an English major. When I realized that wasn't working out, I figured I should just concentrate on what I really enjoyed: History. After all, most of my elective courses were in History and I normally got A's. I still had that fear of not being able to take a history background into the job market, but then I thought "screw it" and just changed over. I don't regret it a bit because I now have a degree in something I truly love, which made getting that degree much more satisfying. And I'm not starving, so there.
For my reading pleasure I almost always choose a book about a specific person or event relating to one of my favorite historical topics, which are generally centered around European events in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Without a doubt, World War I (or the Great War as it was called in Europe) and the time immediately before and after I find the most intriguing. A passage in Martin Gilbert's book, The First World War, A Complete History, briefly notes the effects of this war which basically anchor my passion for this period in time:
Additional historical topics that continue to captivate me include the establishment and eventual break down of the British Empire, the Boer War and continuous struggles in South Africa, Tsarist Russia and the eventual rise of the Soviet Union, and World War II. I also find the history of specific cities to be engaging, such as London, Paris, Barcelona, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Mexico City (I have read books that cover the fascinating histories of each of these cities and almost all of them were deeply engrossing).
This page has been designed to reflect my love of history and contains some of my favorite historical photos. Hopefully it may just spark an interest in others to the joys of learning more about the events and extraordinary people who shaped the kind of world in which we live. I know that may sound a tad pretentious, but really, give it a try; history is cool!
British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, commands his country's youth to fight on the Western Front during the Great War.
Australian troops on a duckboard track through Chateau Wood, Third Battle of Ypres, 1917.
The doomed royal family of Russia, the Romanovs.
Piccadilly Circus, London, during World War II. The famous statue of Eros was removed during the Blitz and the site was used for wartime posters.
Barcelona by Robert Hughes
Empire: The British Imperial Experience from 1765 to the Present
by Denis Judd
Isaac's Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson. I read this book in the Fall of 1999 and have since re-read it. Both riveting and frightening, it re-creates the atmosphere of Galveston, Texas 100 years ago, when it was destroyed by one of the most powerful hurricanes ever.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson. An absolute gripping account of serial murders at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. I wrote a complete review for my firm newsletter; read it here.
Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester.The author transports the reader to the colonial world of Southeast Asia where, in the end of the 19th Century, everything seemed to come to an end. Krakatoa, a cone shaped volcano which kept watch over the Sunda Strait in Indonesia exploded into history in 1883, blowing itself out of existence, launching a horrifying series of tsunamis and killing nearly 40,000 people. The effects of the eruption were felt as far away as France and Washington, DC. Winchester not only describes the incredible events but also gives insight into the colonial world of what was to eventually disappear along with the world's most famous volcano.
Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret
MacMillan. A sweeping account of the meeting of the victors of the Great
War in Paris in 1919. The author, who is the great-great grandaughter
of Lloyd George, truly evokes the atmosphere of the conference and the
quirks of all those involved: Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George,
Lawrence of Arabia, Milton Keynes and even Ho Chi Minh, who was, at the
time, a kitchen assistant the the Ritz Hotel in Paris.A very accomplished
work about a an event that had far reaching effects even to this day.
Storm of the Century: The Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 by
Willie Drye. In the tradition of Isaac's Storm and Sudden
Sea, this book
brings to life the strongest hurricane ever to hit the United States
- the great unnamed storm of 1935 that annihilated the Florida Keys.
Great Historical Documentaries
The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century - an incredible eight hour chronicle of World War I, recently presented on PBS. Literally one of the best pieces of programming I have ever seen on television. The video series is available directly from PBS mail order.
The Times of Harvey Milk - An Oscar-winning documentary that tells the story of the first openly gay man to be elected to office in California. A great piece of work that not only chronicles Harvey Milk's life, triumphant election and eventual assassination, but also provides a look at San Francisco in the 1970's and the beginning of the gay rights movement.
The World at War - the classic documentary series produced by the BBC tells the story of World War II and its ramifications on the world and future generations.
Some Great Films
The following films are among my favorites. While some of them may not relate directly to specific historical events, I think they really capture the feeling of the particular era in which they are presented.
All Quiet on the Western Front - The classic 1929 film version
of Erich Maria Remarque's anti-war novel about German students who enlist
to fight in the Great War.
Michael Collins - The 1996 film by Neil Jordan about the man who
brokered the separation of Ireland from the United Kingdom, only to be
assassinated at the age of 31. Starring Liam Neeson, this film was beautifully
photographed and vividly brings to life a struggle that continues to this
Schindler's List - Steven Spielberg's widely acclaimed account of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved over a thousand Jews from Hitler's concentration camps. A stunning film that is harrowing, but in the end, uplifting.
Gladiator - Ridley Scott's masterpiece about the corruption and vices of ancient Rome. This film deserved to win the Oscar for Best Picture, as did Russell Crowe for Best Actor.
The Hours - Without a doubt, Nicole Kidman deserved her Academy Award for playing Virginia Woolfe. Three women in different times and places are connected by Woolfe's literary work Mrs. Dalloway. Incredible filmmaking.
FLY TO LONDON NOW TO EXPERIENCE THE
Imperial War Museum
One of the main objectives of my first visit to London in 1988 was to spend time at the Imperial War Museum. I had read a great deal about the incredible amount of artifacts this museum owns and displays, most relating to my own passionate historical interests. I planned on making this one of my first stops in London, hoping to spend the entire day exploring the halls of a museum that was at one time an insane asylum and now devoted to the documentation of Britain's wars. (Many have noted the irony here.)
Well, my best friend and travel companion Jim and I took an Underground train to the Elephant & Castle station, not far from the Museum. Eager with anticipation, I stood by the train doors as we pulled into the station. As they opened, I noticed a very large poster notifying potential visitors to the Imperial War Museum of the temporary closure of the galleries for a much needed renovation. Crushed is an adjective that cannot to begin to describe my reaction. Poor Jim had to wait hours before he could even speak to me, but I eventually accepted reality.
The next year I returned to London and, without a doubt, it was worth the wait. I spent two whole days wandering through the exhibits of the museum, which included the Trench Experience, where visitors can relive what is was like to inhabit a trench on the Western Front, and the Blitz Experience, where we lived through a re-enactment of life in London during the German raids of World War II. Add to this thousands of innovative displays of artifacts and it all added up to an experience I will never forget and hopefully will get to relive soon.
For all those planning a trip to London, absolutely make time to visit the Imperial War Museum. Even if you have only a fleeting interest in history, I guarantee a visit here will be one you'll most certainly remember.
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