History was not my strong point, but it taught me some other valuable lessons.
Oh, how I hated History! As far as I could see
The regnal dates of kings and queens would be no use to me;
And learning who fought who, and why, I saw as interfering
With what I yearned to know about: Mechanical Engineering.
Although what history I learned I now have quite forgot,
I’ve learned, at least, what history is, and also what it’s not.
Objective and complete it ain’t: lest you should be deluded,
Historians select what things they think should be included.
A point to make, an axe to grind, a publisher to please,
Or just a dearth of evidence, from which they have to tease
A narrative that tries to paint a picture of the past –
But never yours or mine of course, for we are never asked . . .
And yet, in History I learned to question what I heard,
To check and challenge what was taught, examine every word.
The Mean Sidereal Year, he said, was quite precisely this;
But I had heard another value, not the same as his!
The History of the Calendar took second place, I fear,
To the accurate description of the Mean Sidereal Year.
We argued in a courteous way, remaining quite polite,
Each quoting different sources proving each of us was right.
Eventually, he sought support from someone who should know –
The Astronomer Royal at Greenwich. And his reply was “No,
Your student’s right”. Which shows just how an error’s propagated
When information handed down is not evaluated.