What do I research, “history” or “mystery”? The latter, saith my uncle Eric Alexander: his own eight-year-long history research project has involved his diving deep into the murky pool that is British archives, and revolves around Henry Cort (1740-1800), whom Wikipedia calls (somewhat tartly, I think) “an ironmaster”.

Granted, I’m definitely not doing Eric’s kind of archival history, trawling through documentary evidence to verify, clarify, and patiently illuminate. Rather, my interest in “cipher mysteries” is focused more on the nature of the knots that constrict the flow of knowledge around such odd objects – a kind of epistemological meta-take on history, using these (apparently) mysterious objects as lodestones to guide the way into the locked historical psyche.

Hmmm: I am at least self-aware enough to see that I suffer from a bad case of eighteenth-century French philosophy, insofar as I see “history” and “science” merely as two views onto the same unified field (in the Renaissance, they weren’t even separated yet), and “mysteries” merely as handed-down lumps of knowledge whose particular misconnection differs from other knowledge only in a matter of degree, not of kind.

To us fully-paid-up Enlightenment rationalists, the point of history lies not in knowing what happened, but in the process of finding out what happened. Ultimately, I’d like us all to be historians, not to memorize (or even to fake) stuff like royal lineages (the kind of spurious historical apologetics John Dee excelled in, unfortunately), but to use its palette of research skills in our daily lives – to actively bring to light that which has been occulted, in whatever area, for whatever reason.

That’s not too much to ask for, is it? 🙂

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