What History Really Is

The other day one of the Praxis participants posted this to Facebook:

“As a former history major in college and a college drop-out, I never thought I could love history even more then I did back in school. But as I go through the history module for Praxis, I feel like I’ve been cheated my whole life through school. Instead of learning about the greatness of government and its political figures we get to learn about individuals that have actually changed society for the better through markets and with an entrepreneurial spirit.

He found the secret.  Each module contains a core theme not directly expressed but conveyed through the broader arc of all the content.  The secret of the history module is to dispel the myth of Great Men.

Most history in textbooks and schools tells very little about how we got here.  How did humanity overcome environmental and social challenges to move from stone tablets to touchscreen tablets?  How did all the order we see around us evolve?  How did languages form, and great stories and myths, and breakthrough inventions?  How can the great fact of exponential human progress after the Industrial Revolution be explained?

Most histories are really only the history of those who have ordered and overseen the deaths of masses of people.  Military and political figureheads who pass laws and give speeches and take credit for all the good things that happen during their reign.  Even non-political figures like artists or entrepreneurs get portrayed as lone geniuses who never collaborated with others or engaged in a rigorous, messy, back-and-forth process in broader society and market.

History is now.  We are making it.  So has everyone before.  We want to open up the mind to the possibility that the great advances in society aren’t from Great Men or Lone Geniuses with top-down plans, but from the dynamic creative process of market and social exchange.  Whether hearing Stephen Davies discuss lesser known but more important dates in history, reading Anderson and Hill on how complex disputes were settled in a decentralized way in the American West, listening to Paul Cantor on Shakespeare and Dickens and the X-Files taking feedback from their audiences and incorporating it into their work, or watching Kirby Ferguson on how everything is a remix, the secret is there.  History is about a complex interplay of people and processes.  The pomp and parades and statues are easily seen, but they don’t tell of the fundamental force in society; creative individuals interacting and exchanging with one another.