I am reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. I got it thinking one of my children might use it for history, but we weren’t able to squeeze it in this year. He gives a wonderful, though brief, account of the discovery and exploration of that river.
Along the way, Twain gives his view of memorizing the dates of history. Here is what he has to say:
“To say that De Soto, the first white man who ever saw the Mississippi River, saw it in 1542, is a remark which states a fact without interpreting it; it is something like giving the dimensions of a sunset by astronomical measurements, and cataloguing the colors by their scientific names — as a result, you get the bald fact of the sunset, but you don’t see the sunset.” (p. 5)
He then makes what amounts to a wonderful argument for keeping a Book of Centuries (a habit we have been sadly neglecting in our homeschool of late):
“The date 1542, standing by itself, means little or nothing to us; but when one groups a few neighboring historical dates and facts around it, he adds perspective and color . . .” (p. 5)
Twain goes on to demonstrate what he means:
“For instance, when the Mississippi was first seen by a white man, less than a quarter century had elapsed since . . . the driving out of the Knights-Hospitallers from Rhodes by the Turks; and the placarding of the Ninety-five Propositions — the act which began the Reformation . . .When De Soto took his glimpse of the river, . . . Michael Angelo’s pain was not yet dry on the ‘Last Judgment’ in the Sistine Chapel . . . Elizabeth of England was not yet in her teens . . .” (pp. 5-6)
He continues in this way at quite some length.
Makes me want to get back to those Books of Centuries . . .