Thankful

Turkey Day, Gratitude Day, Thanksgiving Day – whatever the variation this one day is life or death for a nation, for America.

If we are not thankful, we are entitled and entitlement is the death of a nation. Taking Ancient Rome (among others) as an example, when an empire falls, you can bet that a lack of thankfulness for the freedoms (in America’s case) and advantages (in the case of other empires) is the attitude shift that leads to apathy, degradation, dependency, and finally, destruction.

Every year Thanksgiving comes around and we either look forward to it, or it simply gets lost in the marketing juggernaut of popular holidays from Halloween to New Year’s Day. A true sense of Thanksgiving gets swamped in the onslaught, and that’s sad because a holiday focusing on gratitude and not getting is rare these days.

Gratitude enables us to recognize that we are blessed, that we have something to be thankful for, that we have something to work for in order to be thankful for it. It is the antidote to entitlement, apathy, and self-centeredness.

So, with every bite of turkey you eat, don’t go without remembering and thanking the One who made it possible for all that is there to be thankful for; for life, for freedoms, for peaceful gatherings, for food itself… and much, much more.

– Amanda Stiver

I Beg of You… Don’t Hate History

Let the following numbers sink in and then I’ll explain why they’re horrifying…

(Image: Morguefile.com)

— A mere 20% of American fourth-graders (~10-11 years old) passed a National Assessment of Educational Progress U.S. history test with a “proficient” knowledge of their country’s history.

— Only 17% of eighth-graders (~14-15 years old) tested proficient.

— Worst of all, twelfth-graders, seniors in high school ready to go to college and become registered voters at 18 years old, scored a horrendous 12% proficiency (Stephanie Banchero, “Students Stumble Again on the Basics of History,” Online.WSJ.com, June 15, 2011).

I cannot number the times I’ve heard the now familiar statement, “Well, I hated history when I was a kid, but now I’m that I’m older, I’d really like to learn about it.” Followed by, “It’s probably because I didn’t have very good history teachers in school.”

I can’t fix the latter, which is the quagmire of our educational system dictated by politics. I can address the former; indeed I feel I must, so dangerous is this crisis.

I have but one life to give…

(Image: Morguefile.com)

Theoretically, 88% of American seniors know next to nothing about the country that gave birth to them, prospered their parents, allows their freedoms of dissent, and finally freedom to vote (or not to vote, as they wish).

88 per cent devoid of basic U.S. history knowledge! This is abysmal!

To me, as a historian, it is tragic because I love history, and my knowledge of the past lets me see into the future. Yet more fundamentally, I am appalled that our nation knows so little of its glorious, storied, sometimes dark, but often bright history.

It is tragic, too, because history is the fulcrum upon which our freedoms balance. Educationally speaking, math, science, and written word studies give us the means to improve our lot and style of life, but history hovers above, around, and beyond all that. History was passed on by word of mouth long before it was written down; it pre-existed and sustained those other disciplines. You can’t learn math if it is illegal for you to do so. History teaches us what is legal and what is not.

Most importantly, however, history preserves our knowledge of what freedom is. Without that, any dictator can come in and trounce us into submission. Without understanding the history of their struggle for freedom, any people can and will become the servant rather than the master. They no longer value what generations before fought and died to give them. They no longer value the representative government, the checks and balances, the useful traditions that give us identity, freedom of expression, freedom to meet together in peace, and freedom to transact government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

The Scottish Declaration of Arbroath says it this way:

“It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom—for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

Give me your tired, your poor…

To know history is also to learn compassion for those who suffer because so much of human history is suffering. It is to hear the cries of hungry children during the Great Depression, waiting for food that would not come because no food could be bought because no one had money and no jobs were to be found.

It is to hear the weeping of mothers whose sons died at Lexington and Concord, and at Gettysburg and Antietam. It is to see the fire fall from the sky as American soldiers invaded the coast of Normandy and made bombing runs deep into enemy territory over Germany to defeat the Nazis during World War II.

It is the struggle of pioneer families who made the hard, unrelenting trek across the American West to find a better life, full of greater promise and a more abundant future for their children and generations to come.

Learn to love history…

These low scores are simply one of the signs of a greater malaise in America right now. It will take us some doing to get out from under its apathetic and dreary spell.

(Image: Morguefile.com)

I’m prescriptive by nature, and every problem has a solution. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate how history should be taught, and how to find the stories hidden amongst the dates, battles, and personalities than to recommend the following clip of Andy Griffith teaching a history lesson. It is classic and unparalleled. It is how I see history when I read it – full of life, full of great causes, full of heritage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGXCH7zBdc4

In my next post…

I will concentrate on ways to re-invigorate a personal and family love of history with book and magazine recommendations and other ways to make history approachable. Man or woman, parent or child, young or old it is essential to find a way to learn U.S. and World History, and to learn to love it… stay tuned.

– Amanda Stiver

Life goes on… and so does History!

History is like that. One day you can’t get enough of WWII culinary skills, Ancient Greek composting, or the Thirty Years War and the next day… nothing!

Historical curiosity travels in phases. While a particular subject can really never be worn out as an area of study, it can wear out in our minds. We get sick of hearing, reading, or thinking about it. At that point some even give up on history (even us nerdy historian types!).

Fear not! It isn’t necessary!

I will call this (since I’m writing here) the Law of Historical Opposites. It’s actually more of a technique, but “law” sounds more impressive.

Flip your area of interest. Love Prairie Cooking in the American West, but are sick of recipes for Johnny Cakes? Try reading about Native American tribal history or the manners and customs of the American East or of Colonial California!

Have always liked the interminable accounts of the WWII European Front action, but simply need a change – then search out Pacific Front histories or leave WWII altogether and pick a different war. Humans being what they are, there will never be a shortage. Or, the ultimate flip, search out the history of Amish and Mennonite pacifism!

Keep it fresh, and you will always stay curious!

– Amanda Stiver

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

Fun at Fort Ancient

In southern Ohio, just north of the city of Cincinnati is a fort that is technically not a fort, but that might have been a fortified settlement, but we don’t know for sure.

The pink shape on the left shows the outline of the Fort Ancient earthworks.

Welcome to the world of mound culture history. There is so much that is unknown about the culture of the builders of these earthen mounds that even authorities on the subject have to qualify almost everything they say. We do know that these mounded earthen structures were carefully constructed by carrying soil in woven buckets to each site. And the sites themselves are scattered from Wisconsin to Louisiana, but particularly in Ohio

The earthen mounds of Fort Ancient, which is located near Oregonia, Ohio, were built between 1 and 200 A.D. according to the handy posters located on the grounds of the state park. They were built and inhabited by the Adena culture until about 500-600 A.D. (if memory serves). At this point their culture seems to have faded away.

More is known about the Native American cultures that also revere the earthworks, but their exact relationship to the original builders is still clouded. A Native American village in the area dates from 1,000-1,200 A.D. and American Indian settlements in the area continued from then on until the well past the arrival of European explorers.

Field trip

Touring the grounds of Fort Ancient was instructive and illustrated to me the immense size of the earthworks complex. The mounded earthen hills themselves range in height from about 6-7 feet tall to 20+ feet or more.

What the area was used for is another one of those unsolved mysteries. Archeological digs are in progress to help understand more about the area and its purpose. It could have been important for a number of reasons. The digs hope to prove that as a spiritual center there is evidence of an astronomical connection to the location. It might have been a setting for social or religious rituals. Perhaps a burial site or even a settlement, or maybe all of these combined.

Other similar earthworks in the region appear to have served a variety of purposes, so it will depend on future research and archeology of the locations to confirm their actual uses. The Adena culture didn’t have a written language, unless evidence of such simply has not yet been found.

If you have a chance and are anywhere near Ohio come check out Fort Ancient. There is a museum on site and other educational activities. The grounds are accessible by automobile and there is also a walking trail, which gives you a closer look at the location.

For more information visit www.fortancient.org

Happy history travels!

– Amanda Stiver

English is Two Languages

You can learn a lot about a person from the way they speak. You can learn a lot about a country by the language they use. In this case, by the language that is shared by two countries.

The English language is named for its country of origin, but it is shared with in use by England’s rebellious former colonies, The United States of America. That said, we really don’t speak the same language. Particularly our idioms and slang. We may spell a word the same, but that doesn’t mean we grant it the same meaning.

Perusing my copy of British English A to Zed by Norman W. Schur and Eugene Ehrlich proves elucidating.

I have heard of kerfuffles before, but didn’t realize it was a British word for a fuss, commotion or dither. Fascinating, although I rarely hear Americans use the words commotion or dither, perhaps fuss.

Girl Scouts are Girl Guides in Britain and oddly enough if you get in a kerfuffle in your troop you might get up someone’s nose! Or in America, get in someone’s hair 0r on their nerves.

A publican sounds vaguely Roman, but it really just means saloon keeper. A puncture isn’t a medical state; it is a flat tire on your car after you’ve been motoring on rough ground.

A spate is a flood of something or other. And a shout isn’t something you do after you’ve had too much alcohol, but is instead the word used for treating others to a round of drinks.

So here’s to speaking a foreign language that you already know!

Cheers!

– Amanda Stiver

Time Travel: Indoor Plumbing

I don’t know about you, but I have often wondered what it would be like to travel back in time and live in a different technological era. See how each day was shaped and view the variety of daily activities.

Running water, electricity, public utilities, cars, and computers are merely a small sampling of things we take for granted, but which shape our day.

How often do we get up in the morning and use the fancy indoor plumbing that inhabits small rooms throughout our houses? Everyday, multiple times! But imagine how different the day would be if we didn’t have those small rooms!

Instead we would resort to a chamber pot or an outhouse, no plumbing. How about showering? Brushing teeth? No indoor running water – instead we would have a big tub, a stove to heat water on, and a pump outside that we would wrestle up and down whenever we needed H20.

You know the old phrase “draw me a bath?” Well, people literally drew the water up through the pump and lugged it to the tub. Life was work.

Here is the history lesson: don’t take anything for granted. Knowing the details of how our predecessors struggled to make a living keeps us grounded.

– Amanda Stiver

July the 4th: Illuminating Independence

The flag of the United States adorns a small flower arrangement in my dining room and bits of red, white, and blue are to be seen inside and outside my house. I may even have an illumination or two. But these things are only the outward symbol of 200+ years of American history and the quest for freedom that began when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776.

We celebrate the 4th day of July and not the 2nd, but as you’ll read in the following quote* written by John Adams (yes, him again) to his wife Abigail the vision for an expansive future was there from the earliest days of the Republic:

“But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. — I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in the Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

The line, “It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty,” always stands out in my mind. How often do we hear the words “solemnity” and “God Almighty” attached to 4th of July celebrations? Fireworks, yes, solemnity, not so much.

But think about the cost of human lives it has taken to maintain this country and its freedoms from the first days of the Revolution to the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan just recently. Not to mention the support crews on the home soil that built the boats, planes, jeeps, tanks, weapons, and other ordnance that saw us through WWII as well as every other major war? Their memory deserves more than a few moments of solemnity in the presence of God Almighty.

“Rays of Ravishing Light and Glory,” – I love these words because not only to they refer to the illuminations that we are so used to seeing on Independence Day, but they also describe the hope of opportunity, freedom of religion, and peaceful existence that America has promised to generations of immigrants from the earliest English, Scots, Welsh, Irish, German, Dutch, Spanish, and French settlers to those who still, with patience, go through all the red tape and hassle it takes to become a legally invested American citizen.

Happy 4th of July! May you see the Rays of Ravishing Light and Glory and may your 4th be solemnized by acts of Devotion to God Almighty!

– Amanda Stiver

*All quotes from Our Sacred Honor: Words of Advice from the Founders in Stories, Letters, Poems, and Speeches edited by William J. Bennett

And I quote… Paine, A. Adams, and Longfellow

A web-log on history has many avenues available to the author and as I explore them I find that sometimes the thoughtful exploration of a quote* from an historical document can give enlightenment to history as a whole. A few lines of prose or poetry, short and succinct, allows time for analysis when hundreds of pages of reading is too demanding.

Ideas are carried in words and none more so than those of Revolutionary era America. I find myself, during times of upheaval, turning to the words of the men and women who influenced the founding of the  United States or later recorded their stories. Ironically, those individuals saw the dangers that faced the generations to come after them. Over two hundred years later, we are witnesses to the dangers they foresaw.

`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`

Freedom

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; ’tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

– Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776

Sacrifice

I will take praise to myself. I feel that it is my due, for having sacrificed so large a portion of my peace and happiness to promote the welfare of my country which I hope for many years to come will reap the benifit, tho it is more than probable unmindfull of the hand that blessed them.

– Abigail Adams to John Adams, June 17, 1782

Watchfulness and Courage

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm –
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore.
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” last stanza

* All quotes from Our Sacred Honor: Words of Advice from the Founders in Stories, Letters, Poems, and Speeches edited by William J. Bennett

The Paul Bunyans and Me

Sometimes you get the chance to draw near to your family history and often in the most unexpected ways. Yesterday I watched a tree trimming crew dispatch some overgrown pine trees from a neighbor’s yard.

A piece of large-scale logging equipment on display near Snowshoe, WV.

As the cutter scaled the approximately 40-foot tree and removed limbs as he went, I was reminded that my grandfather and uncles did this very type of work during their years as men of the forest. By trade they were loggers, harvesters of tree growth, but to say they were just lumberjacks who chopped down trees doesn’t even begin to do them justice.

The tree trimmer reached the top of the tree, supporting himself with a band around the trunk and sharp spiked boots, and secured with rope the very top of the tree, branches still intact. Still perched precariously he zipped through the trunk above him and his ground crew kept well back as the top fell to the earth with a crash. He descended and finally the bare trunk was ready to come down.

Making the connection…

I was never able to watch my grandfather or uncles at work, so my image of a logger’s work came in books, movies, family stories, and the occasional tree removal in the yard. Seeing this type of scaling firsthand helped to flesh out the stories of danger and hazard that they dealt with every day.

It also brought to mind their other accomplishments. Knowing forests are full of very tall plants and, considering that we farm by planting plants and harvesting them, you can begin to understand that logging is another form of farming. My grandfather knew more about forest life and tree ecology than I will ever hope to know. You can’t work in that environment for such a length of time without developing a clear understanding of your surroundings. Your life depends on it!

The harvesting of trees is only half of a lumberjack’s job. To harvest again in the future you have to replant and I believe the ratio is 7 trees planted for every 1 tree cut. To know how to fall a tree you must have knowledge of branch growth which can interfere with the fall and cause undue damage to you or other trees. Even then the forest is full of surprises and the best of men have lost their lives in this line of work.

Clear cutting an area is only one of many methods of harvesting; however, it is the most drastic with the most visual impact. That’s why it made the news so much in the late 1990’s when the politically correct trend was to be a tree worshipping environmentalist. Selective cutting is what you do if you want to continue to make an income from your stand of trees. A few trees, cut specifically, improve the health of the remaining trees.

By the way, woodland animals live in meadows and at the edge of the forest, not in deep, dark, densely packed old-growth stands. They need vitamin-D, too – just to knock another myth in the head while I’m on the subject.

Hat’s off…

History is like that. Sometimes you unexpectedly come across a connection to the past. You begin to better understand what happened during an important historical event or your own family history.

I’m glad I got the chance to see the kind of work my grandfather did. Thanks grandpa (and to all the other Paul Bunyans out there) for surviving all the injuries and near-death crisis inherent in your work. I wish I could have said it while you were still present to hear it.

– Amanda Stiver