I read history at university. I read history now.
What is the difference between the guided and autodidactic versions of myself? I guess specialism would be an obvious difference. Now, I tend to concentrate on Ancient Rome (both Republic and Imperial) whereas in the past I was more piecemeal in my choices.
As I write this, and think about my courses at university, I'm confused about what I actually studied - which periods of history were on my formal curriculum. In a way this haziness is a product of Sussex's convoluted degree structure which forced me to read Marx, Durkheim, Weber and Freud alongside my actual chosen subject. Actual history though, what do I remember? I know I studied American presidential history and wrote about Eisenhower and the Civil Rights Acts in the 1950's.
Looking through my personal reading record (yes I've kept note of every book I've read since 1982) I see that my reading whilst at university didn't support my actual degree. If I did specialise it was on recent UK and USA politics, the Wilson government of 1964-70 and maybe American post-war politics, Kennedy and Nixon being notable.
The Wilson government (Wilson, Callaghan, Healey, Jenkins, Crossman, Castle, Brown, Benn) seemed populated with giants. Giants who had served their country who meant well but were, ultimately, ineffectual. Though they did pass all the great liberalising measures - legalising divorce, homosexuality, abortion, Equal Pay - the country still seemed worse off in 1970 than it did in 1964.
So, why have I moved my locus from recent political history to the ancient world?
Tim of university days is different from Tim now. Then, I had worked in Parliament, I delivered political leaflets, supported campaigns, joined parties, engaged in politics. Now, whilst I keep up with the news, my expectations of personal involvement (apart from cryptic articles on this blog), is zero. My engagement in the political process is reduced to voting and cynicism.
I suppose we all become disillusioned at some point.
And Rome? It's remote but foundational to that much derided concept - western civilisation. I seek answers from the beginnings, not the ephemeral. Optimates v populists, Senate v people, dictators v Senate, a common law and trading bloc across Europe, paganism v Christianity, the over-running of the Empire, stoicism; these are ideas that one can study dryly but whose resonance reverberates even now. Who can read about the Goths being allowed to cross the Danube in 376 and fail to see any parallels with today? Does one learn from history, does it repeat itself, does it rhyme or is it different each time? I don't know but I do know we've been here before.
Who cares, ultimately? Wish I'd have read Law instead.