What C.S. Lewis Can Teach Us About Historical Thinking

I have, in the last few weeks, come to doubt my memory. It is not that I am losing anything. It is that I am not sure I ever had it. Most of the time I carry on as though what I remember is actually real. But I have come to suspect such certainty.

A few weeks ago I took my car into the shop to get inspected. While it was there I asked my mechanic to check the spark plug wires and to see if he could figure out why I have to get them replaced every time I bring the car in. I had, six months earlier, replaced them myself when the car was running terribly and it cleared right up, just as in the past when my mechanic had replaced the wires. So why did this keep happening? Except that it wasn’t, and hadn’t happened. He said he never replaced the spark plug wires on this car. I said he had indeed. Then he pulls up on the computer all the invoices going back to when I had purchased the car from him. Nope. No spark plug wires. Now I keep my own records too, so I quickly looked in them, which I had on my phone in Evernote. Nope. No spark plug wires. I have such a clear and distinct memory of him changing the wires several times. Enough so that I came to the conclusion six months before that that was the way to fix the rough running of the engine.

This shook me, honestly. If I could be so spectacularly wrong about something so clear in my mind, what else was I plain wrong about.

So reading this article here about memory and history, and grief, sure strikes a nerve.

the way of improvement leads home

LewisOver at his thoughtful blog Faith and History, Tracy McKenzie of Wheaton College offers some insight into the nature of historical thinking from the writings of C.S. Lewis.

Here is a taste of his post:

It’s been a while since I’ve shared anything from my commonplace book, so I thought I’d pass along a couple of passages from Lewis that I copied just this morning.  They come from his short book A Grief Observed, a set of reflections that Lewis recorded as he was dealing with the death of his wife Helen…

…hidden early in Lewis’s “map of sorrow” are ruminations that spoke to me as a historian, for they wonderfully capture a challenge that I face every day.  When I ask students what causes them to admire a particular history book or history teacher, what I hear most commonly is that the book or teacher in question makes the…

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