Why I do what I do

I know I posted about the introduction to Livy back in January, but I want to bring it up again. Throughout the thesis process, one of the questions people keep throwing my direction is “Why are you writing this?” or “What relevance does your topic have?” (two variations on the same question).

There is value in studying history, even history several thousand years old. In the case of Greece and Rome there is something to be said for learning the roots of Western Civilization, but when you get into particulars in those societies, this value becomes obscured simply because you are not looking at the broad spectrum of influence. Instead you have what to most people seem inanities of the subject that you obsess over without any tangible practical value. Further, it is all too possible to get worked up over a piece of minutiae that someone who doesn’t know the subject looks at without understanding in the least why you refuse to remove it, but insist that it is a crucial point.

Therefore when I am asked those two questions above, my first reaction is that there is no great value and you should only read it if you are genuinely interested, because otherwise it is just a waste of time for all parties. I do not claim that my writing is good enough, profound enough or relevant enough to life to cause an epiphany for the reader. If it draws them in and makes them want to know more, then I have done my job, but I will leave epiphanies to self help authors and priests, because that is just not what history is really about. More and more I want to explain myself by throwing the (slightly modified) words of Livy back at the interrogator:

“The task of writing history…fills me, I confess with some misgiving, and even were I confident in the value of my work, I should hesitate to say so. I am aware that for historians to make extravagant claims is, and always has been, all too common: every writer on history tends to look down his nose at his less cultivated predecessors, happily persuaded that he will better them in point of style, or bring new facts to light. But however that may be, I shall find satisfaction in contributing, not, I hope, ignobly…”

Livy wrote history as a distraction from his troubled times and because he wanted to. For these reasons I feel close to him. I, as he once did, want to discover the truth, figure out what happened and explain it.

2 thoughts on “Why I do what I do

  1. I just find the whole notion that “Your work must contain an epiphany and be earth shattering or else it is pointless” to be bogus. If that happens, then great, I am all for it, but I don’t have any illusions that my work is that good. I am more interested in improving, learning and becoming familiar with the topics.


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