Book Me: Keeping History Real

This scowl could only be saying, “Interpret history for yourself!” (Image: Morguefile.com)

Some days history comes alive and some days it stays comatose. Why is that? Why does one subject or exhibit or picture, etc, spur a curiosity in the past and another makes voluntary dental work sound like fun?

I had one of these moments at an interpretive center the other day. I can’t call it a museum because museums tend to emphasize collections of things as is, without intensive interpretation.

This location wasn’t bad, but there were a lot of ambient battle noise recordings that could have been a couple of decibels lower. That coupled with an audio playback of each written display in tight quarters resulted in a cacophony that made me want to leave rather than immerse myself in history.

On the other hand, it might have been me because I was tired out from a long couple of days of filming, so I wasn’t in a very receptive mood. However, on the road home as I read the short pamphlet about Fort Necessity in southwestern Pennsylvania I really got into the subject. Who knew that a multi-thousand dollar interpretive center would fail to inspire where a 50 plus cent sheet of folded paper with a few paragraphs would?

This is the dichotomy of history and of the use of interpretive centers, which are more and more replacing old style museums.

Is interpreting history wise? Should not each one of us have a chance to examine the facts unimpeded and come to our own conclusions?

What if the bias of the interpretive center is wrong? Are you really teaching history or are you perpetuating an opinion?

Probably both. We must interpret, and any teacher of history, no matter how much they try to avoid it, is interpreting the subject via their own personal bias to their students. That’s part of being human.

Developing a personal curiosity into history can help each of us interpret the facts on our own. If an exhibit fails to enthrall you then dig into some books on the subject. You might find the angle that eluded you and develop a whole new area of interest.

Keep history real!

Amanda Stiver

Advertisements

May the Sword be with You

(Image: Morguefile.com)

I just watched a fantastic documentary entitled Reclaiming the Blade. Narrated by John Rhys-Davies of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark fame, it is an excellent journey into the history of western martial arts.

The film covers the choreography of sword fights on stage and screen, sport fencing and sporting events among the Society for Creative Anachronism, comparisons with eastern martial arts, and finally the resurgence, study and practice of western, particularly Renaissance, martial arts based on written materials from that era.

It isn’t a how-to on sword basics, but if you watch closely you will pick up on a great deal of the varied techniques. On the whole it gives the interested viewer a very cool documentary that also happens to explain the history of a weapon that is infrequently used outside of action-filled adventure movies or Shakespearean plays.

Sitting on a powder keg

Swords were high technology in their day, but the western tradition of sword fighting and dueling shriveled into the tameness of modern day sport fencing with the introduction of gunpowder and gun culture. If you have ever been to a gun show at your local fairgrounds you will see the domination of explosive powder based weapons compared to blades. Sure there are always a few stands that feature knives of various kinds, but knife and sword shows tend to be subordinated to the world of rifle and revolver.

One point made very well in the film was that what you generally see in action-adventure films with any amount of swashbuckling is a strange mixture of fencing and kung fu or something similar. Not true to the western tradition in which many of these films are set. However, movies like Gladiator, Troy, Rob Roy, and a few others have been produced with a bent to historically accurate fighting sequences.

Unexpected swords

On a biblical note, if you have ever read the “armor of God” section of the last part of the book of Ephesians and wondered what a soldier did with all those weapons, this documentary will help fill in your understanding of what it took to successfully wield a sword. “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (NKJV),” will take on a whole new meaning: the seriousness with which a scholar of the Bible needs to approach and handle the words of that historic book.

As interviewee John Howe, a well-known illustrator, says in the film, “Now, we’ve reached a point [in time] where we’re looking all around trying to find meaning to what’s happening… [so look to history because] …There’s nothing like history. History is all of us over thousands of years.”

Take the opportunity to watch Reclaiming the Blade, a genuinely interesting documentary film that just might become your gateway to history.

– Amanda Stiver

Watching Storms from the Porch

(Image: Morguefile.com)

A Facebook post by a friend the other day got me in a nostalgic mood. The post was about front porches and the happy memories they hold.

I have lived in a variety of houses and some had porches, some did not. Some had decks and those have become more or less the replacement for good, old-fashioned front porches. The kind of porches that aren’t just a stoop, but have room for multiple people, a chair, a wicker sofa, etc.

Architectural history

Historical trends in architecture affect the people who live in them. We live in the era of box-like abodes with little square carpets of lawn, expansive back decks and front porches so narrow you have to skooch across single file. Maybe it’s because air conditioned summers are our norm that people no longer request a deep, shady front porch to accommodate a lemonade break and catch an occasional breeze on a hot summer day.

Maybe, on the other hand, it’s because people are less social in their neighborhoods than they used to be. Strolling the sidewalks in the evening was a hallmark of years past, but with the advent of automobile culture people are more content to park the car in the garage that has moved from behind the house to the very front of the yard thereby symbolically cutting off the expression of friendliness that a big welcoming porch used to express.

Porch adventures

Whatever the case, I remember one summer day during a big storm in the Midwest. It was the porch of family friends. A group of us kids were huddled under the stone columns of the porch to wait out the thunder and lightning. We played games and watched the clouds gather. It was exciting to hear the booms and see the flashes of light from under the protection of the porch, better than being inside where you could only hear muffled reverberations.

Big, wide porches like that were a fortress for little kids in all the games we thought of to play. Climbing over the sides of stone railings during a dangerous mission in the Alps was only a sample of the fun things you could do. Scaling a column during the course of exciting archeological discoveries was another. Even better was when a kindly adult would bring out something tasty to eat as we dragged ourselves in from the Sahara.

My history takeaway is this: If you are in the position to afford to build a new home, consider being a throwback and ask for a big, wide front porch to grace the front of your home. Who knows, you might be the one to start a building trend that has the potential to bring people together again. At the very least, it will look great to all those who pass by and enjoy it!

Reviving good things about the past can be a positive thing, as long as we recognize that the past can never be wholly re-created, only, maybe, improved upon.

– Amanda Stiver