A Bard’s Tale

September 1, 1896
Sarah Waters

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Mr. Bard. It is my goal over the next several months to inspire you with history. Can anyone tell me what history is?”

He stood perfectly still and straight at the podium in the front of the classroom. His eyes scanned over the young, eager faces before him and I had the distinct impression he was judging us by the expressions we wore and the way we sat in our too small desks.

The front row was occupied solely by six young men. The remaining four rows were all young women, first years at Primrose College like me. All three of my nasty roommates were in attendance with me but fortunately none of them had sat near me. I sat in the middle of the room in the second row. I would have gone for the first row but it was clearly reserved for the boys.

“Yes, Miss Cushing.” Mr. Bard said.

I looked behind me to see one my roommates lowering her raised arm and clearing her throat to answer.

“History is the study of past events.” She said looking smug.

“Thank you for your participation. You will find I expect and reward participation in the classroom discussions. While a very good answer, Miss Cushing, it is not precisely what I am looking for. Can anyone else elaborate on Miss Cushing’s answer?”

They young man in front of me raised his hand.

“Mr. Anderson, you have a thought?”

“Yes, sir. Events of significance.”

“Very good, Mr. Anderson. Yes, history is the study of significant events in the development of a culture or nation. Historians are not merely interested in past events. For example it is of no importance to us what Miss Cushing had for supper last evening, however if we are talking about the last supper eaten by Jesus Christ, we are all much more interested. The difference; the last supper eaten by Jesus Christ was an event of significance in the development of Christian culture, unless I am mistaken, Miss Cushing’s latest supper meal was devoid of any cultural or national impact.”

Mr. Bard fell silent and waited for his words to sink in. There were a lot of nodding heads in the classroom, but I found myself bothered by a question. I raised my hand.

“Yes, Miss Waters?”

“I do not wish to be argumentative, but does not the passage of time have the ability to impart a significance on events which might seem unimportant at their occurrence?”

“It is not argumentative at all, Miss Waters. In fact, it is an astute observation. If you will bear with me for a moment I think you will have the answer to your question.”

Mr. Bard smiled at me and it was a genuine smile. For the first time since I arrived at Primrose, I felt welcome.

“Ladies and gentleman, you will find a text book underneath your seats. Please place them on your desktops now. The books are yours for the duration of this course. You are expected to keep them in good condition and return them upon request. I expect them to be brought with you to every class. Now, can someone tell me who wrote this book?”

Mr. Anderson raised his hand almost immediately. I had a suspicion Mr. Bard was not looking for the names designated as authors on the front cover.

“Yes, Mr. Anderson.”

“Arthur Murray and Devon Blake.” He said.

“Correct, but who are they?”

He raised his hand again. Mr. Bard nodded at him.

“They are prominent historians and considered the premier authority on cultures around the world.”

“Less specifically.” Mr. Bard said.

Mr. Anderson shrugged indicating he was uncertain what Mr. Bard was asking. My classmates looked equally dumbfounded. On a hunch, I raised my hand.

“Miss Waters?”

“They are men.” I said.

Mr. Bard’s smile widen and he nodded approval at me.

“Absolutely correct, Miss Waters. They are men. History is researched, studied and written by men. The contents of this text book is a result of the work of two men. I do not belittle the qualifications or work of these men, as Mr. Anderson has pointed out they are competent and capable historians. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that while their work is based upon studies into fact, they are still men interpreting those facts. Men are fallible and so it is not to be ignored that the version of history they tell is clouded by their perceptions of the events. Which takes us back to Miss Waters’ question; does time add significance to events? Yes, it can because the perception of today’s mundane events can be quite different when looking back upon them in fifty or a hundred years. The significance of today will be judged by its perceived impact on tomorrow. That is history.”

Mr. Bard looked at us all again and he seemed satisfied that he had made his point. I could not help smiling myself. I decided on the spot that I would enjoy his class and his lectures for the year. I was all ready looking forward to his next class.

“Open your books and begin reading chapter one until the bell. Answer the essay questions at the end of the chapter and be prepared to discuss them on Wednesday.” Mr. Bard said and then moved to his desk to sit down.

A few of the ladies began to chatter instead of reading. The boys seemed to know better and so did I. Mr. Bard stood up again after a moment of it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it seems I neglected to discuss discipline at the beginning of class. There will be no talking unless called upon, assignments will be completed with accuracy and expediency, courtesy and respect will be extended to all members of the class at all times. Failure to meet these standards will result in discipline, for the ladies that means a bare bottomed spanking in the front of this classroom, for the gentleman that means immediate expulsion from Primrose College without appeal. Understood?”

We all nodded our heads and unsurprisingly the chatter became silence.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Melanie, A little hard on the ladies I think.
Warm hugs,