Oh my God, I’ve got to stop submitting questions to our Friday Five:
My question for this week turns to Time Travel again, but this time, it’s a Connie Willis sort. In her novels, characters often return to some time period in the past in order to do research; time travelers are very often historians, and archeologists have been rendered all but obsolete. If you were able to propose five such trips, assuming that one would work and that you would have to go and actually live in that time period, researching it and studying it for up to a few years at a time, where would you go? Assume that you have to study the local language of the time, and that an implant will be provided to aid you with this study (though it won’t do the whole job for you); assume costuming will be provided, but imperfectly. Assume that you face all the risks and dangers anyone else who looked identical to you might (such as enslavement, sexual assault, and worse); you may assume only a few well-planned inoculations against the obvious (such as plague antibodies for a Medieval historian) and a little basic defense training. Where and when would you be willing to spend a few years just being present, observing and studying how people live?
Okay, well, unlike in the present, where there are only a few places a white man shouldnever, ever go, history is rife with such times. So I’m going to have to be quite careful here… I think a number of the times and places that really interest me would be places in which I could expect to be killed in short order. So I’d go to…
- Anywhere in Middle Class America, 1940-1946. Not that whole time period, just somewhere in there. I’d like to see what America was like during the war, before and after they joined. The press, the popular rhetoric, the way average folks talked about it, and also just daily life in that time.
- France, 1936-39. Again, seeing how the French reaction to the clearly approaching war resonated among the common people would interest me.
- Canton, late 1830s/early 1840s. I’d like to see the one British-occupied bit of China during the heyday of the Opium trade. The apparent (and often discussed) brutality of Canton at the time, the lives of the foreign community. The optimal historical voyage would be to start out in London, go to Bengal (north of which, if I remember right, opium was produced) and inspect a factory, and then from there continue on to Canton and spend perhaps a year in the “factories” (warehouse areas) where the foreigners lived, worked, and played.
- France, mid-twelfth century. Assuming I could masquerade as a traveling nobleman, I’d love a chance to transcribe the works of the troubadours (from just a century after the turn of the last millennium) by listening to the original singers, the people who invented a lot of our notions about what love is and means. I’d particularly want to be at Eleanor of Acquitaine’s court, where anyone who was worth knowing about at the very least passed through, or at the very least his or her songs did.
- Sometime around 1000 AD, somewhere in what’s now the Southern USA. I’d like to go somewhere where the weather is hospitable, meaning not cold (hot I can deal with) and live among the Pre-Columbian Indians for a while, see how they really lived and get away from a lot of the myths on either side about how they were either visionary early greens, or poor barbarians living in squalor.
There are a couple of other times I’d like to go to, but which are beyond the scope of this question, namely during the time when humans were just beginning to use language. (This is a mere speck of a moment in geological time, but would probably take a few trips to get right, and it’d be dangerous. I’d want to go invisible, or perhaps just observe through a wormhole-window like the one in Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke’s novel The Light of Other Days. And of course, another trip I’d be interested in is one into the future; I think I’d pick some unobjectionable place like The Territory That Possibly Was Formerly Known As Canada, in, say 2100. This would give me enough perspective to see what my generation had accomplished in its long-past time, and also to see what I think about which changes were picked up on and followed-through.
If you would like to see more answers to this long-winded question, please check the Friday Fivers links in the right sidebar.