It all started with a substitute teacher I had for one day in World History in high school. We had been slogging our way through British history, finally reaching Henry VIII with Mr. Lautenschlager, who I think had been using the same lecture notes and tired jokes since he had started teaching back in the middle ages sometime. That day, though, Mr. L. was not there, and instead we had a young substitute who started in on the lesson.
She definitely knew her history. After making an attempt to go on with the lesson and seeing our growing boredom, she stopped and started talking about Henry VIII and his personal life. Now, that was interesting. Very interesting. (This was, of course, before the series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.)
Just casually, she mentioned that Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was the daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, who most of us knew as the ones who had sent Columbus on his way to the New World.
Suddenly, I realized that these distant, dusty personages were real people. For a moment, the history of that period became alive for me. The next time I went to the library I found a biography of Catherine of Aragon to read. I continued to read biographies from time to time when I heard about someone or something that seemed interesting. I even co-wrote and co-produced a marionette show about the Russian revolution with a friend in high school, but that's definitely a story for another day.
Anyway, if you've read all this, there is a reward. The New York Times has a blog called Times Traveler. Each day they pick out several news stories that were published 100 years ago on that day. Roosevelt hunting in Africa, a new hotel to be built in Manhattan, a disappearing teenager, car accidents, the Panama Canal, sports stories. It's all there. There is even a link to view selected back issues of the Times. It's definitely worth checking out.
And let me send out a thanks to that substitute teacher from long ago. She opened up a whole world for me.