History Crash Course

Posted on Friday, May 15, 2015

Most every college student has, at one point, contemplated the possibility of cramming a massive amount of information into his or her brain overnight. Cramming for a large exam does not always lead to success, but sometimes there is not sufficient time to cover all the topics. One instance where it is inconvenient to have time restraints is during traveling. Some locations that people stumble upon have existed for thousands of years and consequently the amount of information that exists about them cannot be grasped in the time allotted.

Traveling and visiting European historic sites is very similar to late night cramming. The comparison might seem like a stretch, but in both cases you end up completely emotionally and physically drained, learn more than you ever thought possible, and are shocked to find out that you completely misunderstand whole concepts. During the time I spent working for the U.S. Commercial Service in Madrid, Spain through A&M’s Public Policy Internship Program (PPIP) I had the opportunity to travel to two cities that were only 45 minutes away from Madrid. The cities I visited were Toledo (located south of Madrid) and Segovia (located north of Madrid).

Toledo was under the rule of many different governments but in just one very small area it is possible to be exposed to three different societies: Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. The city crams so many details about each culture giving way to the opportunity to learn about every single culture without ever having to leave the building. While in Toledo, an old Jewish synagogue can be visited, and the interesting part about this synagogue is that it influenced the building of El Escorial, a monastery and palace complex where Catholic monarchs lived. Toledo is also known for its steel and understanding the industry and what makes it special in Toledo is an entire lesson in a completely different discipline.

Segovia is home to ancient Roman aqueducts, the Alcazar Castle, and the Segovia Castle. The Roman aqueducts are an important reminder of Roman engineering and it shows how far it reached into Spain. Several monarchs occupied the Alcazar at different time periods and while it was badly damaged in a fire in the mid 1800s, the royal palace has never been conquered in battle because of its position on a cliff. Segovia is known to have been under Celtic rule, is the site of Queen Isabella’s coronation, and was critical to help meet the growing Jewish demand for textiles and wool. Segovia and Toledo are rich with history and when they are seen for the first time, wishing that the walls could talk becomes a sincere desire. However, the cities and their histories can be overwhelming especially if a person’s first visit to Toledo or Segovia is their first encounter with such a large and incredible amount of history and detail.

Cramming for an exam the night before is much less exciting than being able to visit cities that have existed for centuries, but both late night cramming and traveling can provide a crash course on a subject. While there exists a lack of enthusiasm to repeat a whole night of late studying, the want to continue visiting other cities full of so much history is almost unbearable. The want and desire to see other cities leaves the visitor wanting and expecting more out of the next city they visit and results in them seeking the importance and history of the next city until soon they are left with a new and profound understanding of many different civilizations.

Crash courses and cramming information is not ideal, but if the crash course involved traveling and being in the area in question, I would not hesitate to repeat the lesson learned.

Carolina Gonzalez
U.S. Commercial Service
Madrid, Spain - Spring 2015

Tags: International, Madrid