With a B.A. and M.A. in history, I obviously love the subject and the historical research skills I learned in college played an important role in my writing my memoir Examined Lives. So how did I fall in love with this subject?
As to be expected there were many influences. An important one was actually being where important history had been made. In grade school in Maryland we visited Mount Vernon and the Bull Run battlefield. I was fascinated by the fact that spectators had come to watch the first battle of Bull Run in the expectation that the war would soon be over. Later in my high school days my father was a diplomat in Beirut, Lebanon. His enthusiasm for history rubbed off on me as we visited places like the Phoenicians cities of Tyre and Sidon, the Crusader castle of Krak des Chevalier and many more.
When the Marines landed in Beirut in 1958 at the invitation of the Lebanese presdent who was facing major civil disorder, my stepmother, brother and I were sent as refuges to Rome, Italy, a history lover’s paradise. Surrounded by it made me what to know about it.
Also important, however, was a textbook I had for my World History class in the 9thgrade. There was a time when major historians thought it important to write high school textbooks and I studied from one such old textbook by James Henry Breasted, who founded the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. He wrote clearly and well and got me most excited about the Middle Ages, which became my major focus in college. Given that interest, it is not surprising that I am a fan of the historical mystery novels of Margaret Frazer and Ellis Peters.
Of course loving a subject is not the same as being proficient at it. In developing my analytical and research skills, my college professors deserve the credit, among them Hanna Holborn Gray, the former President of the University of Chicago and the recent author of her own memoir. Mrs. Gray taught me never to say “I feel thus and so.” She was not interested in feelings about historical topics. And. she taught be to always define my terms, to be clear about what I meant when I used a word. I hope I have made her proud.