30 December 2007

For the sake of popularity

In school, I hated history. I had to memorise names of people and places and dates, which I never could, and ended up getting low marks in exams. I found history books boring, with the same old stuff written in every book year after year, and every book carrying the same old badly-printed black & white pictures. Those days, in India, good history books with colour photos were few and expensive. So, I dropped history as soon as I could and decided to take up science. Much later in life, and I don’t know how it happened, I began to take an interest in history, and even anthropology.

The fact about historians opening up to make their work more ‘fictional’ is an interesting happening. I’m not totally against this. In fact, remembering my history classes in school, I believe it’s a happy circumstance to be in. I feel this ‘opening up’ reaches out to more people and attracts them to a subject which is considered boring. And, I’m not one to complain about this. I remember my excitement when I read Jacob Bronowski’s ‘The Ascent of Man’ some 20 years ago. It was a wonderful presentation on the history of science; and, perhaps, that’s when my interest in history began.

Science has always adopted various routes in popularising difficult-to-understand subjects and new discoveries. Books (both non-fiction and sci-fi) and documentary films on, say, the theory of evolution, particle physics and nanotechnology are just a few good examples of this approach. Mind you, this doesn’t mean good hard work by historians and scientists should be discredited for being too factual and uninteresting – and, therefore, unpopular. Nor does it mean fiction should overrule historical and scientific facts for the sake of popularity.

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