109. Humans!

Friday, October 11th, 2019

Welcome to Histories of the Unexpected where we demonstrate how everything has a history and how those histories link together in unexpected ways.

For this episode let us join the homosapien of the homonyms, Dr Sam Willis, and the opposable thumbs of history, Professor James Daybell, as they individually, singularly, and personally, bring you the unexpected history of humans!

Our two historical hominid’s will follow ancient Pleistocene footsteps from the caves of southern Argentina and 13,000 year old hand stencils to Herodotus, the ‘father’ of historical study and inquiry, from nineteenth century German historian Leopold von Ranke, one of the founders of modern source-based history to Geoffrey Elton and the concept of historical continuum and human agents, and from the victim testimonies of the Munchenstein railway disaster in 1891 to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and intellectual thought, primal beasts, and noble reason in the Elizabethan mind, this unexpected journey will take you through the flow of time, near death experiences and historical causation.

Our capacity to gain an insight into humanity and a sense of time is an essential part of how we conceptualise history. There is a suggestion that this is a process which we learn over time (an interesting dilemma; in order to appreciate the flow of time we must indeed flow through time ourselves). Studies have been carried out which suggest that young children cannot fully understand the nature of history nor the significance of time within it. Indeed, the Swiss psychologist, Jean Piget, argued that a child can only appreciate an event and the duration of time in that moment, however, the consequences of that event may not be fully appreciated by the young mind. Of course, culture plays a large part on how we harness our spatial reasoning to understand the flow of time. Whilst Western concepts of time are anchored in and to the body, other cultures experience time differently. The Piraha tribe of the Amazon rainforest have a limited language based on humming and whistling, and it appears that they have no concept of time, their language has no past tense, everything exists only in the present. Humans, like other animals, perceive time, changing seasons, night and day, the changing phases of the moon.

But humans also conceptualise time, we use clocks to measure it, we use calendars to mark its passing, and we talk about it as chunks, as speed, and as ageing. Our sense of time is mailable, but it is also intangible, we cannot hold it, we cannot see it, and we certainly cannot stop it. It is therefore subjective, how we experience it differs, and that brings us back to how we conceptualise history; essentially it is subjective. We cannot detach ourselves objectively from it. Indeed, we mark and record its passing, and in constructing, recording and planning time and past events we have evolved capacities for spatial reasoning, with cultural and linguistic practices and resources considered. It is this which allows us to gain some insight into human concepts of time, and conceptualisation of the past, which are no way uniform, how could they be when it relies so much upon human actors to interpret it. Time, like the past is not monolith, it changes, continually, over, well…time!

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