When I tell people that I was a history major in college, I note a mild revulsion, as though I told them that I was mathematics major specialising in group theory. For most people, the study of history conjures up an endless stream of dates and dead dudes in strange old-timey clothing doing something that they’ll forget about as soon as the exam is over. I understand, but beg to differ. Sure, if your high school history teacher was anything like mine, you probably felt an exceeding torpor strike you in seventh period as he droned on about the Holy Roman Empire.
But the fact remains that, as George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Often forgotten is what he said afterward–”Those historians who remember that quote and repeat ad nauseam are condemned to be bromides”
So enough of that. Let’s talk about history that’s interesting, engaging and directly connected to your everyday life. I speak of a contemporary popular genre of history writing–the microhistory–that has dispelled the myth that all history is as dry as the Sahara. The microhistory is not a tiny history book for the nearsighted scholar; it’s a history about how a single thing or idea has shaped history in its own way or the history of one specific thing. From the salt you use to flavour your food to the number zero to your DNA, there’s a history waiting to be uncovered. Here are a few of my favorites: