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
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.