Would history classes have been more interesting if we occasionally paused and asked, “What was going through their mind?”
Often there is no way to know for sure. So this question invites speculation rather than the cold memorization of names, dates, and events. But it does make the person we’re studying human and real to us.
This question occurred to me as I read about Saint Willehad, an eighth century priest and missionary to pagan Frisia and Saxony. What was he thinking in 782 when he had to flee from pagan Saxons who burned churches he founded and killed his followers? Did he feel betrayed that the very people he was trying to help turned against him? Or did he feel like he had somehow failed those lost souls?
Thinking about Willehad’s point of view by its nature excludes others – that the Saxons had valid grievances like forced conversion and exorbitant tithes.
In the 21st century, it’s easy to find fault with both sides and such objectivity is important to get a balanced picture of what happened. But it also distances us from the people, complete with virtues and biases, who inhabited our past.
For about the history of Saint Willehad and my speculation, read my post on English Historical Fiction Authors.
An 1880 fountain honoring Saint Willehad, next to the cathedral in Bremen, Germany, was melted down in 1942 (photo shot around 1900, public domain via Wikimedia Commons).