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delorean

When the notion of time travel pops up I immediately think of a certain DeLorean  with that capability. Time travel is an exciting idea, but more than likely should be left up to the more adventurous, such as Michael J. Fox.  At first thought a historian’s dream would be to time travel. The ability to transverse all periods of time,  to accurately record historic events and shed new light on standing controversies would be fantastic. Then reality punts the historian in the face.  A historian is a human. John Gaddis in his book The Landscape of History points out two obstacles immediately restraining the typical time traveling historian. The “everyday life” of that time in which the need for survival may occupy a majority of the day. Also, Gaddis makes obvious the limited perspective of which a single human is capable of recording history as perceived through their own senses (Gaddis 3-4). In addition to not having to face these obstacles, present day historians have three additional advantages over time travelers.

A time machine may allow someone to control the destination they arrive at in terms of the time and location in which they arrive. However, they will have no control of the outside world at their destination. A historian basically has control of everything. Gaddis uses the term “selectivity” to describe this and states that historians, “impose a significance on the past, not the other way around.” Historians have the ability to select and focus on whatever they deem relative, important and/or interesting. They can simply leave out everything that is not. Thus creating a representation of history in their own perspective(Gaddis 22-23).

Simultaneity, something that would require much more than a time machine (perhaps a device similar to the one used to link the brains of rats in the Miguel Nicolelis experiments and multiple identical clones of oneself), is a privilege that historians are bestowed with.  Instead of being limited by human senses, the amount of historical references available allows historians to view many happenings occurring within the same length of time and the development  of a particular point through an extended amount of time. This allows a historian to remain comfortably in his present spot and (although not physically) to be in multiple places and times all at once(Gaddis 24-25).

Unless future time machine developers install a god-like button and a ant-like button, or something of that nature, that would allow the time traveler to become an efficient surveyor of both the macroscopic and microscopic world then historians oust time travel once again. Historians are allowed to scale whenever they so choose. They may observe the smallest, most mundane detail to the largest, most catastrophic anomalies. Something that is of a smaller scale, a time traveler may simply look over or deem insignificant. However, a historian could take this same small detail and possible relate it to a much larger scale proving the great significance of it(Gaddis 25-26). 

Do not time travel in order to become a better historian. Gaddis’ ideas of selectivity, simultaneity, and scale give clear advantages to the present day historian looking back over history as opposed to the time traveling historian fumbling around to survive and to actually make any significant historical writings.

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