Personally, I hate textbooks. It’s like sitting in a classroom, staring hopelessly at the clock, while the professor screams and spews out important dates and facts. Hans Gumbrecht takes a stand against traditional textbooks, and creates a new narrative approach to history. Within his book In 1926; Living on the Edge of Time, he aims to recreate the events of 1926 through individualized thematic essays. He states in his ‘users manual,’ “This book presupposes that a specific desire is at work here: a desire “to speak to the dead”-in other words, a desire for first-hand experience of worlds that existed before our birth” (xii.) The reader is asked to fully immerse themselves into the world that was 1926, and gain an authentic historical venture.
The essays themselves tell anecdotes of individuals, events, pieces of music, and technology. There are facts and ideas, but yet each one is introduced in a way that is inviting and exciting to the reader. Each essay does not fit together like a puzzle, but is crafted to be more like an “individual reading path.” He encourages readers to find a piece or subject that interests them, and read until they’d like to stop. Gumbrecht employs a firm tone to establish that his book is NOT to be read from cover to cover. It’s more of a delightful, self-driven reading experience, a deliberate attempt to “make at least some readers forget, during the reading process, that they are not living in 1926” (xi.) History should be told as a narrative, in the style of a story; full immersion equals true learning.
As far as music historians go, I think that this method could be a refreshing way to ingest history. The essays are interesting, and not so fact-heavy. Each one has multiple references to other essays, that one can simply look up and learn more about, to avoid explaining every little fact and detail. Topics that need to cover an expanse of events, people, and ideas would really benefit from being written in this style. I cannot stress how inviting this text was to read, and if a music historian wanted to make their material more accessible, this approach would be easier for a non-music historian to enjoy.
The most important thing that is to be gleaned from Gumbrecht, I believe, is his methodology. Any person, not only musical historians, can be enhanced by being actively engaged in learning. This book is not only unique, but has an extremely stimulating way of presenting knowledge. It encourages the research-ee to create their own pool of historical immersion, and ingest knowledge at a comfortable pace. Learning, and knowledge, here becomes the paramount concern; a ruling monarch presiding over the specific details. Gumbrecht successfully resurrects 1926, in a way that engages, delights, and excites readers in learning how they want to learn.