A late summer reflection on history, climate and the world.

Here's what I'm working on, writing and thinking about in August 2023.

A late summer reflection on history, climate and the world.

It is August now. I don't usually do this kind of article, and I hope it doesn't seem self-indulgent, but this morning I felt a desire to pause and put down some thoughts that have been going through my head lately, on teaching and communicating history, on the climate crisis and how life in general is going. So I hope you'll indulge me this once.

I'm a teacher, and as we switched from July to August we're now on the same calendar page as my return to school at the very end of the month. Earlier in the year I expected to be moving this summer, in fact across a national border to Canada, but that's not going to happen at least for a while longer and I'll be returning to the school where I've taught history for the past five years. Each year it's a relief and an accomplishment to reach the end of the school year, but then after about two weeks I start to miss my students and passing through the rhythms that are now baked into the curriculum I teach. In U.S. history, it's still blazing August and early September when we cover Cahokia and Native American history; pre-modern will begin with the fall of the Western Roman Empire; modern history starts with the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Sekigahara. By winter we'll be into Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, the Crusades, and World War I, respectively. Teaching history gives you a weird sense of the passage of time both on historical scales and in your own life.

This summer has been eventful. The major event in it will probably be the sudden explosion of my YouTube channel, which is how some of you recent readers of this newsletter found me (hi, and welcome!) I've had my YouTube channel for five years now, and for all of those five years it's been barely noticed. In July 2023 the site's mysterious algorithm suddenly noticed me, and my video deconstructions of the Iran-Contra scandal, which I wrote about on this blog while it was in production (here), and the sad life of 14th U.S. President Franklin Pierce, have now reached far more people than any of my other historical work has ever done. Last summer I shifted from primarily shorter videos to very long deep dives with oodles of context. Honestly I think this made the difference. Conventional wisdom has it that people's attention spans are short and growing shorter, atomized by streaming video and social media. I can report definitively that this is not true. People want context, explanation, and understanding of connections, especially when it comes to historical material. This is gratifying to know. And yes, for fans of my channel, I am hard at work on the next deep dive video, which will be about the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. So there's more coming.

The 1990-91 Persian Gulf War has, in recent decades, been overshadowed by its 2003 sequel. My next deep-dive video will explain why this conflict is still so relevant in modern history.

Earlier in July, I also finished the mostly-final draft of my mystery novel, Daniel Vanished, whose troubled history I also wrote about back in April. I'm happy to say this project is back on again after some great feedback I received from beta readers. As the main plot deals with a road trip through the desert (U.S.) Southwest, summer was the time to write it. In fact I wrote the final chapters on the hottest days of the year so far here in the Northwest, shuttered in my bedroom with the air conditioner droning incessantly. The out-of-control heat waves and wildfires of this summer are impossible to ignore or minimize, as are their cause: anthropogenic global warming. This is undoubtedly the most ominous development of summer 2023.

I used to do a lot of work within the space of climate change, but I haven't for quite a while. In 2021 I entered a profound spell of anxiety triggered mostly by the realization that the climate crisis is ramping up extremely rapidly, and that our society has consciously decided to do nothing substantive about it. As a historical force, global warming is both awesome and inexorable. It will trigger revolutions, topple governments, destroy economies and completely scramble human institutions, political, social and economic, from the bottom up. I tell you, this is coming, and it's coming soon. Every time the calendar changes from July to August I think about the great historical sea change that was the coming of World War I, and I wrote about it a few days ago in fact. The climate crisis is going to be like that. Worse than that, probably. I don't like thinking about this, as it does trigger my anxiety, but I believe it's true. Humanity will adapt and react to the pressures of global warming, but unfortunately it seems that we're destined to do so largely through violence and upheaval. I'm not looking forward to that future history.

Oil companies and politicians did this to us. Eventually, the force of history will sweep them away, as it did European monarchies during and after World War I.

So, this is where I'm at in late summer. Some things are going very well, others not so much. That's the way of things. I plan to continue my work in teaching, writing and making videos about history, as it seems this is what the world most wants me to do. I hope all of you will continue to be with me on those journeys. Thanks for reading.

The painting that's the header of this article, by the way, is called "Sommernatt ved Drøbak" (Summer Night at Drøbak), by Norwegian romantic landscape painter Hans Gude. It was painted in 1898. Drøbak, near Olso, has traditionally been the winter port for the Norwegian capital.

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