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World History, Cricket, and the Eye of the Beholder

World History, Cricket, and the Eye of the Beholder
By Nathanael Schildbach

Why is Pakistan a full member of the International Cricket Council? Or Zimbabwe? Or Bangladesh? What does this have to do with world history? And why am I even asking these questions?

Many people I meet had the desire to explore the intricacies of history exorcized from them with the notion that history is about dates, location, and a few powerful dead people. These three things, and large time lines showing, from left to right, when things happened (well, things deemed “history” – like wars and politics, not art or sports or everyday life, unless they can’t be avoided) usually qualifies as an education in history.

As an antidote to the chart on the wall with William the Conqueror, Abraham Lincoln, and Adolf Hitler, I’d like to suggest reconsidering history not as what happened but “why are things the way they are, and how could they be different?” This latter question – which anchors us in our present with an understanding of the past and an eye on the future – is a jumping off point to discovery, not a life-sentence of endless memorization.

I actually do remember that William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 (although I learned that in an art history course from studying the Bayeux Tapestry), the Civil War was from 1861-1865 (again, remember that because of the book Across Five Aprils), and the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, sparking World War II (remember that from hearing a recording of a radio broadcast of Hitler addressing the Reichstag), but none of this information is more than a point of reference for understanding history. Just as studying science should be about the scientific method not scientific “facts” that eventually get disputed, history is learning a process of thinking as well – asking how, why, and what it means today, not just who, when, and what occurred yesterday.

At the core of this way of thinking are four ideas different from the standard “Antics of the Dead and Powerful” version of history. The first is that history isn’t inevitable, that it is created, just as it is being created today. It is sometimes hard to remove the perception that the people writing history – almost always the winners of these wars and political contests – place upon it that the good guys won, the bad guys lost, and it was meant to be.

Many people have a hard time imagining that the Nazis could have won, that their fall wasn’t the triumph of good over evil; but what about William the Conqueror? Suppose he and his Normans had been repelled – is that hard to fathom? Can anyone think of what that means to us today? It would have had an impact on our world, just as his success did. It’s important to remember that it could have happened. History is what happened, but not what had to happen or what was meant to be.

Riding fast on this first idea’s heels is the notion that history isn’t just created by individuals (the dead and powerful), but by everyone. For every Achilles out there, there are hundreds of Myrmidons making decisions and taking action (or not) that have changed how our world is today. We all need to remember that we are making history, we are living it, that some day our grandchildren may ask us what was happening during a time or event that we lived through. History isn’t the purview of the few, but of the many.

Marrying the notion that history is created and that it is created by all of us is the belief that everything is history. Since everything is created and not just spontaneously happening, everything is relevant to understanding history, and I mean everything. Anthropologists learn much about ancient civilizations by looking at their garbage, but have you ever had a history teacher who said that your grandparents’ trash was history?

Recently while digging plots for some blueberry bushes in our yard, my children were delighted to find “treasures” buried beneath our sod – broken pieces of bottles and ceramic dishes. Many questions could be asked about this find – why did the person or persons who threw it away not want these? What was in them? What were they used for? If anthropologists ask these questions about a vase from Ancient Greece, aren’t the same questions valid about the lives of Americans in the 1930s?

When you open your mind to the idea that everything is history, you realize that the world is one giant museum stuffed with artifacts. Toilets (why are they designed the way they are – remember, it’s a choice, a creation, not an inevitable solution), the idea of “breakfast food” (why do we eat specific foods for breakfast that aren’t considered “normal” fare at lunch or dinner?), and lawn ornaments (why would pink flamingos be in my yard?) are all grist for the history mill (and speaking of phrases we usually take for granted, what do the phrases “going off half cocked” and “lock, stock, and barrel” have in common?)

The final thought that this premise is based on is one that denies the notion of “revisionist history” I hear many people bemoan how people “revising” history are denigrating or aggrandizing our cultural heroes and negating or exaggerating the glory of historical events, that people with political and social agendas are editing history to make it “PC” – Politically Correct or Patriotically Correct. I would argue that history, although based on facts, is the interpretation of what happened. “Revising” it is inevitable, because different historians, people, cultures, etc. will view the same historical event from different perspectives. So it is just as “historically correct” to see Abraham Lincoln as a liberator as it is to see him as politically astute and opportunistic. History is in the eye of the beholder.

All right, you may well wonder, so what has this all got to do with cricket? First, we must assume that cricket (as other sports) is a relevant object of history to study. It is relevant because it is a human creation, and it says something about all of us. It isn’t inevitable that cricket is what it is, or that it isn’t played much in America, but enough people in Pakistan think it’s important enough to join the ICC. There must be some reason for this.

I posed this question to my nine-year-old son. He thought for a moment and then asked, “How do you play cricket?” This is an astute question on two levels. First, he is trying to understand the artifact in question. It often makes sense to look at an artifact without assumptions, as if we just arrived from another planet. Second, it brings up another interesting point – I have no real idea how to play cricket. This isn’t fascinating unto itself, but it is in contrast to the fact that I could tell him how to play soccer, baseball, football, volleyball, basketball, etc. Why was I never exposed to cricket? So I told him I don’t know. He then wanted to know who else was a member of the ICC.

“India,” I said, “West Indies….”

“Well,” he hypothesized, “they were all British colonies. Cricket is an English game.”

Is that the truth? Is there more to it?

Could we dig deeper? We could ask, for example, then why it isn’t played widely in Canada? That’s for you to decide. Remember, history is in the eye of the beholder.

Nathanael Schildbach, M.Ed., is a writer and educational technology designer living in Western Massachusetts. He and his muse, Kimberly, homeschool their children.

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