On the importance of knowing history.

Yesterday my dad mentioned that the family doctor’s wife is from Granada, in southern Spain. He asked, “Isn’t that where the Moors were?”

Fortunately, in preparation for my classes, I had been revising and adding to my old U.S. history notes. One of the little historical tidbits in Chapter One of the textbook was that Granadawas the last bastion of the Moorish control in Spain, and was conquered by Ferdinand y Isabella in 1492. I quickly passed this information along to my dad, alleviating any uncertainty and anxiety about the issue.

Earlier in the week, two of my fellow teachers were discussing Mark Twain and the historicity of state slave laws in Huckleberry Finn. In an effort to figure out how old Twain would have been at the time of the Civil War, and how well he could have known the differences among state slave laws, one of them wondered aloud what year he was born in.

I chimed in, “1835.” Which would have made him 25 when the war began. I knew that because Twain was born and died in years that Halley’s Comet flew past Earth.

What if I hadn’t been there and been ready with those answers? Who knows how many seconds it would have been before my fellow teacher could look up Twain’s birth year in the “about the author” section of the copy of Huck Finn in his hands? He might have gotten a paper-cut on his thumb as he flipped through the pages. But he didn’t—thanks to me.

Dad might even have had to walk all the way over to the bookshelf to check a history book, or all the way upstairs to check the internet. What if he had to risk stepping over the dogs while going upstairs? Or accidentally misspelling “Granada” on Google? Or what if he didn’t feel like getting up to check the bookshelf? Happily, there was no need for such concern.

That’s why we must study history, folks. It affects lives.

Interesting tidbit on Café Hayek this morning, which refers to an article in the New York Times. The Café points out that “men without college degrees are much less likely to marry than in the past.” Well, as I read the charts, every group mentioned is less likely to marry than in the past (possible exception: women with four or more years of college; I can’t tell if that’s a decline or a plateau from 2000 to 2004).

The more provocative factitude is that the order of likelihood of marriage differs based on sex. Generally, the less education a man has, the less likely it is that he will ever marry. Not so for women… those women with four or more years of college are less likely to ever marry than those with “some college” or those with a high school diploma but no college.

There is a rational and innocent explanation for this apparent discrepancy, but nonetheless: What’s the over/under on how long before this study is cited as evidence of societal or institutional sexism? How long before we see proposed initiatives to marry off our female college graduates, or to make sure our male college graduates are as single as their female counterparts?