Will History Ever Just Run Out?

I remember, when I was at school, I told a friend I would like to get a job one day to do with history. She turned to me and asked: 'But won't one day we find everything? So there will be nothing left to discover?'


Me, standing on fourteenth-century steps. Photo: Jo Romero


I paused to have a think. It's certainly true that we tend to re-hash old events over and over again, so maybe there's some truth that one day there will be nothing new to find. There's only so much earth to dig up, seabeds to explore and documents that can be found stashed away in lofts. 

But now, I think that history will never run out. 

And here's why. 

There's always something new to discover
It doesn't seem to matter how much we dig, pore over old documents or sort through lofts, there is always something new being found. The earth hasn't given up all its secrets yet. A Saxon gold hoard could be in the ground, under a lane walked on by people every day, and be found 1,000 years later. We've been studying history for thousands of years and we're still finding out new things. I think that sometimes this gives me excitement to study history more, knowing that things remain buried and hidden and one day they'll be discovered. 

We can always find a new way to think about something 
In the 1520s, Anne Boleyn was considered an ambitious traitor, possibly involved in witchcraft, who had bedded at least four men during her marriage to Henry VIII. Roll on to the reign of her daughter Elizabeth, and she was a martyr, treated unfairly, righteous and probably wasn't guilty of the crimes she was charged with. Today, we think she wasn't guilty and that she actually produced one of the greatest monarchs of England's history, although she or Henry would never know it. We are all looking at the same evidence, but our views are always changing. We all know how the written word can be thought of as misleading or interpreted differently. Well, with history dating before the time of recorded voices, the written word is all we have. 

Opinions of history change with the times
As cultural identity changes over the centuries, so does our understanding and interpretations of history as it happened. As our societies become more diverse and we become more compassionate, we concentrate on the histories of different civilisations, cultures and geography and elevate their importance and specialise in them. We're debating and studying history now that wasn't perhaps studied centuries ago. We have Women's History, LGBTQ History, Black History and many others, which are celebrated in articles, museums and events across the world.  

The History Hive Mind
There has never been a time when we are so curious about history and where we all come from. At one time, history was studied and interpreted only by scholars and professors. Now, the internet has given birth to social media groups, hashtags, articles, posts and forums, packed full of people asking questions, sharing their work and generating new and vibrant conversations around historic topics. We can all put forward our ideas and debate. As we rely more and more on the internet in the future, I think this frenzy of research will only grow. 

Cultural Significance
Why do we want to know about the Wars of the Roses? Or who Cleopatra was? Or how many wives Henry VIII had? A lot of it is to do with cultural significance. We want to know where we come from, what our collective heritage is and learn from the struggles and achievements we share. We care. History won't stop evolving, because we want to unravel the story of how we all came to be where we are now. And that won't change. 

History is always happening
Theoretically, it doesn't matter if one day we'll dig up all the artefacts or find all the ways to interpret a document. History is always going on. What we're doing today will be debated by historians of the future. A computer model our family owned as a child is now in my local museum. Prams, magazines, hair curlers, electronic devices... one day the everyday items from our generation, along with our texts, letters and blog posts will be studied and debated by historians of the future. 

Do you agree? What do you think? Can history ever dry up? Let me know in the comments below...





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