Micro-level History

Micro-level History

I was recently having a conversation with a Spanish friend about the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s. While I was interested in better understanding the bigger picture of this historical period – how the civil war was fought, who won or lost, how did it start and why, I was also very much intrigued about the day to day life of the people living in Spain during this time – how “normal”, everyday people dealt with the situation, in this case the war, in their everyday life.

When we think of World War II we usually think about Hitler, Nazism, the Allies, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Pearl Harbour and more of these major events that made the war what we know about today. When we think about the Middle Ages, we think lords and medieval castles and when we think about the Roman empire, we think Julius Caesar and Roman armies.

We rarely hear about how individuals behaved during great historical periods we read or hear about. We rarely hear about the day to day events of a German living in Bamberg during World War II, their work, their family, their struggles with money and relationships with other people. What about the peasant wife living a few metres away from the castle of the local lord, or the Roman citizen living in north Africa or northern Europe and their everyday worries, relationships, looking for work, raising a family, their search for happiness and meaning in their life.

I believe we rarely think about this and if we did more often, we will notice that humans are the same everywhere, in every part of the world, from whatever background they are, and from whatever period they lived through. When we hear or read about how everyday lives were lived, it becomes even more apparent how similar we are and how historical events are repetitions of the same events under different circumstances.

‘Meditations’ are a series of writings by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, detailing his personal day to day thoughts. Take, for example, this quote:

“The happiness of those who want to be popular depends on others; the happiness of those who seek pleasure fluctuates with moods outside their control; but the happiness of the wise grows out of their own free acts.”

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Imagine the most powerful person in the world at the time worrying about popularity, happiness and moods. It’s not something we associate with Roman Emperors.

That should tell us a lot about human nature and how no matter your position in society, and no matter in which century you live in, some challenges remain the same for humans everywhere.