History: The Art of Storytelling | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

History: The Art of Storytelling

Comment Writer Madeline McInnis discusses the fall of the Berlin Wall and how its recent news features reflects the significance of historical study.

When I was in high school, my favourite teacher was a Priest that taught World History. Despite his small income, he travelled around the world every summer break to take pictures of the places he taught about in order to show the class that they are real places that exist outside of a textbook.

Considering I am now a history major who has also come abroad to study the past and take pictures of its relics, I think his method really worked.

One of my favourite of his stories was about the collapse of the Berlin Wall. He just happened to be in mainland Europe at the time, and as soon as he heard the news he bought the first train ticket he could to Berlin. He chipped off a piece himself and kept it around long enough for it to be passed around in my twelfth-grade Politics class.

All over the world, the Berlin Wall is still making headlines. As of Monday 5th February, the wall has been torn down for just as long as it stood. It was 10,316 days since they tore down the wall and the East and the West were united once more — if, perhaps, only physically.

History is an art of storytelling, just reconstructing that story rather than making it up

If anything, this shows the prominence of history in daily life. This is an event that took place nearly three decades ago, but it holds so much cultural significance that an amount of days can make international news.

People call history boring and I do not think that is fair. History is an art of storytelling, just reconstructing that story rather than making it up. Every period film you’ve ever watched — every museum you’ve visited, every building you’ve ever been inside — holds a piece of history.

Some events, like the dismantling of the Berlin Wall for example, are admittedly larger than others. Perhaps the eating habits of peasant farmers in Medieval France is boring to you, but I wouldn’t believe you if you told me that the exploits of so-called ‘great men’ — Julius Caesar, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Maximilien Robespierre, Horatio Nelson — don’t intrigue you.

These are the best stories ever told, and they are all the better because they are true. These people really existed, these events really happened, and it’s just proof that we, as regular humans, can achieve anything we set our minds to.

Excuse the Harry Potter reference, but they had to start somewhere too, so why can’t we?

Holding that piece of history in my twelfth-grade Politics class, to me, was a life changing experience. I had enjoyed history all throughout high school, but the connection to the Berlin Wall — a connection to a history that ended well before I was born — made me realise that history is actually important.

There’s a reason that we carry these people, their achievements, and the events that they were involved in with us into the present. The human condition and motivation doesn’t change. Julius Caesar’s ambition can still be found in all of us. We still look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in absolute awe. We still value democracy and fight for a freedom of speech and expression when we value it to be discredited.

In short, we are living tomorrow’s history today.

We are so privileged to live in a society that values its historical monuments

Especially in England, we have history around us at all times. We are so privileged to live in a society that values its historical monuments. Even if you are one of the people that claims not to like history, the timelessness of the monuments here is incredible.

When you walk into an old cathedral, do you think about all the millions of people who were there before you? What were their lives like, and what will people think about me a few hundred years down the line? That’s the power of history — to capture life as it was and remember what got us into our positions today.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall is momentous and we can still feel the ripples of the Cold War today. The divide is obvious between the United States and Russia, especially. Nothing really changes except for the circumstances, and the more we understand about the past, the more we can start to make a change today and be prepared for tomorrow.



25th February 2018 at 9:00 am

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