Oh no. Here comes the history major coming to fight anyone who slights history. Well ok, I resent that, but I get it. I tend to make it no secret that I love history. I love learning about it. I like engaging with others who love it. That said, just because I may love it, doesn’t mean that others even like it. It also doesn’t mean that every part of history, every story or artifact, is useful in today’s world; including the technology of the past.
The modern “civilized world” doesn’t need the abacus because we have calculators. Bronze hasn’t been thought of the metal of choice for tools and other metalworks for millennia. The gun killed the sword as video killed the radio…star. But did it? I mean, I think abacuses are cool; I’d love to have the patience to learn how to use one just for funsies. Bronze is actually still used quite a bit today for things like:
- marine tools/architecture because it has high corrosion resistance
- castings for a number of industrial tools because it’s easy to make and manipulate
- sculpture (of course)
- instruments and instrument strings for pianos, guitars, sitars, etc.
And I know plenty of people who still listen to the radio, just as plenty of people still enjoy swords (fencers, cosplayers, collectors).
Slight side tangent before I make my final point.
There’s a very famous quote from The Tempest by Shakespeare (that I used as an eye-catching title), “Whereof what’s past is prologue.” Good line, solid quote. History sets the precedent for the present. The problem with that quote is (like with many other quotes) only half is quoted today and therefore taken out of its full context. The full quote is, “Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come, in yours and my discharge.” The past is done, it’s history, it’s written, and it can’t change. But the future is still wide open; it’s not wholly based upon your yesterday, it’s subject to change based on the choices you can still and will make.
Here’s the thing though…the prologue is still written. The prologue doesn’t just go away because it’s “irrational, superfluous, utterly obsolete.” History doesn’t go away because time marches on. Saying history doesn’t matter anymore because we’ve moved onto the next chapter is irrational. Humans didn’t stop burying their dead just because they started using cremation, too. We didn’t stop playing live music just because of the invention and innovations of sound media (phonographs, vinyl, CDs, etc.). We didn’t stop using candles because we have lightbulbs.
What’s past is prologue, but it has meaning to the present that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s still written and meant to be read and underestood.