I have recently returned from holidaying in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico and whilst enjoying both sun and sand I had a few moments and to think about history and just how much I don’t know.
Whilst visiting the Riviera Maya area of Mexico, I visited Chichen Itza and Tulum. To be honest, before I travelled there, I had no idea what Chichen Itza was… did you know it’s one of the new Seven Wonders of the World? Of course, both Chichen Itza and Tulum were beautiful and impressive places to visit (details of which I can share on my return to Leicester). But it was particularly interesting to hear the tour guide explain about the Mayan calendar (stating that it is even more accurate than the one we currently use) and that the iconic temple at Chichen Itza reflects the Mayan calendar – 365 steps to the top platform (one for each day of the year) and during the equinoxes, the setting sun casts a shadow of a serpent on the northern steps of the pyramid.
Whilst hearing him speak it occurred to me that I know next to nothing about Mayan, Spanish or Mexican history, or even in fact, much about any of the South American continent – with the slight exception of some history of the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas. These have been British since 1833, and the Argentine Junta presided over economic problems in Argentina in the early 1980s – argued by some to be one of the principal causes of the Falklands War in 1982. Of course the withdrawal from the area of the HMS Endurance due to the Thatcher governments cost cutting measures no doubt encouraged the Junta in thinking the British would not fight to regain the Islands. For political balance previous governments (both Labour and Conservative) had also given indications that British interest in the Falklands were waning. But, my point is, if someone asked me about the history of anywhere else in South or Central America, I would not have a clue.
Of course, as historians, we all have our own specializations that we know and love. I am as guilty as anybody else with that. But we should also make a conscious effort to explore other histories of different places and different times than we normally do. Not necessarily to become experts, as there is far too much history in the world for that, but we shouldn’t lose our enthusiasm for discovery. I believe that is what makes us historians—our passion for history.
This trip made me realise that there is so much history out there and that I should have a greater appreciation of world history. As a start, I’ve just read an article briefly outlining some of the Mayan civilization. Now I know a little more about Mexico than just the beach.