Willy Ancient awakens at 9 a.m. For him it is unprecedented, he usually wakes up a 11:50 a.m. and runs to his classroom for his noontime class. His son asked him for help on a paper, so he awoke at this ungodly hour.
His son’s name is – unfortunately – Herodotus. Parents can be so cruel.
Herodotus, or Hero, is named after one of the founders of the discipline of history, who lived in the 5th century BC. The Greek Herodotus performed many of the same tasks as modern historians - interviewing witnesses, researching multiple sources and creating a historical narrative. He was a bit of a misfit at the time, however; the annual historian convention he organized went underattended for a few years. Until anyone else took interest, it was just him, standing around holding the skull of a saber-toothed tiger. Fortunately for modern-day historians, he hung in there.
Willy asks Hero about his paper. It turns out to be one of Willy’s favorite eras in history – the Great Depression.
“Dad, you’re a freak,” says Hero. “What is there to love? I mean it’s depressing. They should have called it the Major Downer.”
“It was depressing for some, sure,” says Willy. “But more people became millionaires during the Great Depression than during any other time in American history.”
He notices that Hero is staring off into the distance.
“Look at Colonel Sanders. He became a millionaire.”
“What? There was actually a Colonel Sanders? His chicken is the bomb. I’m definitely writing about him.”
Willy throws on jeans, a sweatshirt and his tweed jacket – practically a requirement for any self-respecting historian - before heading to his office. Generally, he rides his bike through the campus and thinks about what is must have been like to live during the 1890’s - the Golden Age of Bicycles. During that time, inventers where adding more and more inventions to bikes, such as the pneumatic tire, the freewheel, Derailleur gears and coaster brakes. The baseball-card-in-the-spokes didn’t come until much later.
As he walks into his office, Willy hears someone talking loudly to their friend.
“Your moustache looks like it’s from the 1800’s.”
“Actually, a handlebar moustache – the type of which I assume you are speaking - is from the latter part of the 19th century. The moustache your friend is sporting is more of an imperial moustache. Note its size and thickness,” Willy says.
“Oh, man,” says the moustached student. “I’m going back to my dorm room and shaving this thing off. Didn’t realize it was going to be so controversial.”
Willy shrugs his shoulders. Not everyone is ready for the truth.
He grabs his laptop from his desk and sets up his Powerpoint presentation in the classroom. As a tenured Professor at the college, Willy has taught enough classes to feel at ease before a big lecture. He teaches two classes: Merchants, Pirates, and Slaves and Emerging Cities: 19th Century Urban History of the Americans and Europe.
To liven up his Pirate class, Willy slips on an eye patch. Insert One-eyed Willy joke here.
His students file in. Most of them are too busy texting to notice Willy’s eye patch. He stands at his podium and yells, “Do any of you know why some pirates wore earrrrrrrings?”
The classroom goes silent. Willy likes to start his lectures off with a bang. And the college wouldn’t allow him to fire a cannon on school grounds.
“It’s because they thought it improved their eyesight. Most of you probably think pirates buried treasure. They did not. A lot of their stolen goods were perishable, such as food, cocoa and fabric. If you did not already know both of these facts, you should pay attention… because you will be tested.”
Willy finishes up his lecture. Back in his office, he corrects term papers with his assistant, Johnny. Johnny is a rockabilly kid who loves classic cars and the Classical Era.
“Big Daddy, these kids today are not cool as they were in 1775. I mean would Voltaire, Rousseau or Montesquieu use a dangling modifier?” Johnny asks.
“Glad you brought that up. It was called the Age of Enlightenment and not the Age of the Facebook.” Willy replies.
They talk for a few hours and grade papers. Willy walks home and thinks about what Johnny said. Much like the Classical Era, the world was rapidly changing because of advancements in technology and the introduction of new ideas. However, it’s hard to imagine Rousseau on Twitter. “Absolute silence leads to sadness. It is the image of death.”
Willy makes dinner for his family and sits down to write the manuscript he has been working on – a book about President Andrew Jackson. His desk is a mess. He has papers, manuscripts, photocopies, photographs, books and audiocassette tapes strewn all over his office.
Andrew Jackson is one of the most controversial political figures in American history. He was a slaveholder, supported a small federal government, fought in duels, relocated Native Americans to Oklahoma, fought in the Battle of New Orleans and paid off the national debt. (Today, of course, it would be more shocking if our president were to pay off the debt than if he were to suit up and rush into battle.) Willy’s book focuses on Jackson’s ability to pay off the debt as well as the severe depression that followed that accomplishment.
Hero comes into Willy’s office to say good night.
“Oh, hey - did you know that there is a Harland Sanders Café and Museum in Kentucky? I was thinking we could stop there this summer on our road trip,” Hero says.
Willy smiles. It’s the first time his son has made a request to stop at a museum. That’s the thing about history. You never know what is going to get you hooked, be it a historical landmark, an interesting political figure, or a famed purveyor of fried chicken.