I wanted the mind of a scholar, but it seemed that Dr. Kerry saw in me the mind of a roofer. The other students belonged in a library; I belonged in a crane.
The first week passed in a blur of lectures. In the second week, every student was assigned a supervisor to guide their research. My supervisor, I learned, was the eminent Professor Jonathan Steinberg, a former vice-master of Cambridge College, who was much celebrated for his writings on the Holocaust.
My first meeting with Professor Steinberg took place a few days later. I waited at the porter's lodge until a thin man appeared and, producing a set of heavy keys, unlocked a wooden door set into the stone. I followed him up a spiral staircase and into the clock tower itself, where there was a well-lit room with simple furnishings: two chairs and a wooden table.
I could hear the blood pounding behind my ears as I sat down. Professor Steinberg was in his seventies but I would not have described him as an old man. He was lithe, and his eyes moved about the room with probing energy. his speech was measured and fluid.
"I am Professor Steinberg," he said. "What would you like to read?"
I mumbled something about historiography. I had decided to study not history, but historians. I suppose my interest came from the sense of groundlessness I'd felt since learning about the Holocaust and the civil rights movement -- since realizing that what a person knows about the past is limited, and will always be limited, to what they are told by others. I knew what it was to have a misconception corrected -- a misconception of such magnitude that shifting it shifted the world. Now I needed to understand how the great gatekeepers of history had come to terms with their own ignorance and partiality. I thought if I could accept that what they had written was not absolute but was the result of a biased process of conversation and revision, maybe I could reconcile myself with the fact that the history most people agreed upon was not the history I had been taught. Dad could be wrong, and the great historians Carlyle and Macaulay and Trevelyan could be wrong, but from the ashes of their dispute I could construct a world to live in. In knowing the ground was not ground at all, I hoped I could stand on it.
I doubt I managed to communicate any of this. When I finished talking, Professor Steinberg eyed me for a moment, then said, "Tell me about your education. Where did you attend school?"
The air was immediately sucked out of the room.
"I grew up in Idaho," I said.
"And you attended school there?"
It occurs to me in retrospect that someone might have told Professor Steinberg about me, perhaps Dr. Kerry. Or perhaps he perceived that I was avoiding his question, and that made him curious. Whatever the reason, he wasn't satisfied until I admitted that I'd never been to school.
"How marvelous," he said, smiling. It's as if I've stepped into Shaw's Pygmalion."
-- Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 2018).
And what is of interest to geographers? Mountains high and cool and covered with blue-black pine forests and the endless sheets of baked cracked-earth yellow deserts and a shopping center filled with people loaded down with brown paper bags and children; the empty streets of an old ghost town filled with nothing but tired climate and the pearly dew that covers the grass on a cool clean summer morning and the changing shapes of big red barns filled with hay by sweaty men and the cows that eat the hay and the roads that carry the trucks with the milk and the bright shiny rails of cold hard steel and the trains that ride them even as the wind with their whistles blowing deep, deep into night; the Mexican peasant burning over the sere yellow stubble of his corn fields and the way a city can push its lonely streets out into the country where at night the yellow lights of houses glow every now and then warmly beckoning; and why in one place you pay $200 for the same room that somewhere else goes for $2 and why the sky is blue and the height of the mountains and the size of the cities and the skidrow streets with ancient men of two-day beards that once saw the sheen and gloss of pace and fashion; the changing of the weather day by day, from the arcing heat of a summer noon to the bone-deep chill of a winter night and the wide valleys with their supple sighs and swarming rivers and the unending groan of the great unloaders dipping and and lifting their tons of ore against the growl of the furnaces turning out the rivers of molten steel that ride bumper to bumper tail-lights glowing on the great highways of the world. These things, and more, are of interest to geographers. Geographers want to know where the rivers come from and where they go and why they twist and turn and why some go fast and others slow and why some are clear, so clear and others turgid black. They want to know why you can cross a line nobody can see and be arrested for different things than on the other side and what a country is and means and why some grow and others shrink. They want to know why some people are comfortable a foot apart chatting over an evening cocktail and yet others not unless twice that distance and why a classroom fills with students the way it does and even if it fills a special way. Geographers want to know the shape of the earth and the depths of the oceans and the width of the rivers and the size of the cities and where the rain goes and what happened to the cotton mills in New England. Geographers want to know the middle of the Gobi Desert and walk the road to Timbuktu and take the cog railway to Dawson and ride down the Amazon in a wood canoe and climb Mount Everest and shake hands with the last stone-age man and take a peek at the Shangri-La in your mind and maybe some day have a hand in building a Shangri-La right here on earth where all men will know good things. These things are of interest to geographers.
- Denis Wood, "I Don't Want to, but I Will: The Genesis of Geographic Knowledge: A Real-Time Developmental Study of Adolescent Images of Novel Environments" (Ph.D. dissertation, geography, Clark University, 1973), pp.18-19.