History In The Making

How do you make history? What is the recipe? When the Beastie Boys declared on their 1998 album Hello Nasty that "...With Mixmaster Mike, we're making histo-REE," were they referring to the act of making a record with the noted DJ for the first and only time? Or just the act of making a record?

When you commit something to tape, it's generally said to be an historical event, particularly when this recording is to be duplicated and distributed worldwide. But... microphones? Tapes? That's the key to history?

"History," as I think I think of it, is the preserved remembrance of things past. We can't save everything, so we pick and choose what feels most important to us, and stash it away somewhere safe. It's our privilege, that selectivity, and it's also something of a self-delusion. After all, nothing can be truly saved, not forever.

If the idea of History, capital "H", is going to have any real meaning, it has to be complete. History has to be everything that has happened, not just what got written down. Otherwise it's just the diary of a species.

So, congratulations. You just made history. You got online, visited a weblog, read some words and gave them a little thought. I documented your act, just now, but that's not what made it an Historical Event. It's history because it happened.

Does this sound wrong? It's sounding a little trite, a little pat for my taste, and I'm trying to figure out why. Is it because nothing has come of your act? Is influence the defining characteristic that divides History, capital "H" from everyday life, lowercase "e"?

It doesn't hold up to say that History is FDR delivering an address into a dozen microphones. By any conventional measure that qualfies, but then where do we draw the line? FDR's Secretary of the Interior signing a proposal? Was he not making history too? What about that secretary's dog, deciding against heading back to the house quite yet, because he had some more bugs to investigate in the bushes that evening? Not History?

The key is that we draw the line. It may be somewhere between the State of the Union and the writhing silverfish, but it's ultimately up to us. And to me, that makes it arbitrary. Made up. No biggie.

From far enough back, everything's equally important. Or unimportant.


I'm still not satisfied with this conclusion I've arrived at. Can someone tell me how I've managed to oversimplify this? Or, if I'm right, can somebody tell me what I should do about it?


Thomas said...

You're right. But there's subtypes of history. Personal history vice what we think of as societal history. By the way, your selectivity comment renders me completely delusional.

Colin said...

Me too, man.

The only non-delusional act I can think of, by that definition, was Penny throwing her high-school journals in the bonfire, but I break out in hives even contemplating doing stuff like that.

I realize that's embracing evanescence and all, but yikes.