Perusing the Past

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

The girl stares with blank, pupil-less eyes; her lips are dainty and relaxed, her hair neat and coiled. Her placid expression and plain features provide no insight as to who she is, and because only her head is displayed, I can discern little of her identity. The plaque under the portrait bust, aptly titled “Head of a Girl,” reveals as few details about the girl as her empty stare. In the “3rd Century BC,” I wonder: did she fidget as the sculptor meticulously carved her features from marble? … or was she a deity, one whose sculpture sat in the courtyard of a Greek nobleman as she sits in a museum now? Perhaps she did not exist at all, instead the imagined muse of some unnamed sculptor …

A sharp “Nat!” yanks me out of my musings; with a final glance at the Greek mystery girl’s bust, I hasten down the corridor to where my companions admire Byzantine art.

This always happens at museums — regretting I cannot roam the corridors longer, I leave with a lack of time to explore and a surplus of pamphlets to peruse. Infinite time is not enough to absorb all the information presented by these institutions, and the information sorted into museums, books, and the Internet is not enough to form a whole, perfect idea of Earth’s history. No matter how often I sift through them, the sands of time always fall through my fingers, and the landscape of history — beautiful yet frightening, personal yet distant — remains uncharted. While disconcerting, the reality we will never have this field dissected and its people profiled is also a comforting paradox. It means there is always more to discover, for the field of history results exponentially in both questions and answers.

I realized this duality by studying history in third grade. I read a set of twenty-one books, each from the viewpoint of a different girl in a different era, spanning from the Age of Exploration to the “Age of Prohibition.” Titled Sisters in Time, this series made me a “sister” of history too. I devoured these books, and turned to my local library to obtain more historical novels. My curiosity forever piqued, I pored over books and watched History Channel specials, researched Internet articles and meandered through museums. These quests engaged all my senses, from experimenting with a Medieval rosepetal bread recipe in the kitchen to smelling the hydrangea flowers at the Historic Zoar Village. Each museum offers a special experience, from the vast Chicago Institute of Art to the local Dennison Railroad Depot Museum where I interned; all these places are optimal for losing track of time in a different time.

The need to know and discover spills into other academic interests, and I am excited to carry this curiosity to college and see where it leads and what questions it presents. The information gleaned and connections uncovered in studying history help unravel threads as complex as those binding great themes of literature and those that compose an opponent’s argument during a debate. This information also helps in writing — in our school publication The Crimsonian, I reference historical events and figures to interpret student life or support ideas; for essays, the field of history is an abundant source of support for various arguments.

It is amazing, and comforting, that men have remained the same for centuries: we love, we laugh, we cry, we crumble. And yet we have changed, reaching loftier goals and achieving even greater feats; this process is fascinating to study, and to partake in. The study of history provides a wealth of both questions and answers, and these can be found in the museum where I send a final glance to the mystery girl and continue down the corridor towards my friends and the future.

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