Tomorrow’s History: When The Details Hit You In The Nose

I stepped outside one day a couple of weeks ago and all of a sudden Summer had jumped into Autumn. Not faded, mind you, as many poets have told us that it does, but jumped, leaped, maybe even threw itself into Fall. And yes, where I’m from it isn’t officially yet “Autumn”, which is scheduled to be with us in late September, but I don’t go by calendars when it comes to the changing seasons!

You know how I could tell?

The light and the smell.

As the seasons shift across the globe and the tilt of the earth angles through its yearly course, there is a nearly, but not entirely imperceptible shift in the rays of the sun’s light as we migrate through the day. Rather than dead above us at noontime, they begin to slant as Autumn comes and are most slanted of all in the Winter.

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

These slanted rays give us part of the feeling of “crispness” in the Fall air. As leaves turn and fall to the ground they seem to dazzle us in the spotlight rays of slanted sunfall. In addition, the tiny, first shift in color from deep green to lighter green of the maple trees began in early August. By late August, when the slanted rays of sunshine meet that delicate color change, the light takes on a pink glow.

It really is tremendous to watch it happen, but you have to step away from the devices daily to see it. Don’t get stuck in a digital world, when the real one is so fully and fantastically before us. Lecture over.

The other measure of the autumnal shift? Smells.

I like smells…some of them. But I really like the smell of the grass, the plants, my garden, veggies, roses, myriad things. And I really, really like the smell of lavender. I like it so much that, wherever I move to a new place I plant it, a lot of it. Always. It is spicy, floral, slightly soapy, strongly herbal, but not perfumey.

A good whiff of it will cause your central nervous system to take a short rest and step down from “high alert.” It is a powerful, soothing herb…and it repels many bugs (does it get better than that?).

As I step outside my front door I am gladly assaulted by this wonderful fragrance. Most especially following a good heavy rain the moisture releases the oils in the leaves and carries it into the air.

As Autumn rolls along, and the temperatures cool, the leaves begin to fade and the fragrance of the lavender shifts and takes on a stronger woodsy scent. That’s how I know my seasons are moving along. The plants also die, but that’s later.

I love to measure these tiny markers of the seasons for many reasons, but especially because it reminds me to appreciate nuance. To collect those little details that are seemingly unrelated or irrelevant, but put together paint a larger, more complete, eventually overwhelming, and sometimes sinister portrait.

And this is where history comes in. The sinister bit. History, when you measure it as it happens around us, something we call, “the news” or “current events,” you must be alert to these “tells” or tiny bits of nearly imperceptible change, shift, and nuance that added together, give us a sense of where things are going. Better times or worse.

I don’t mean to be a rain cloud, but times are not getting better. That’s the sinister bit. The tells and details of the moment are plain if we watch for them. We are in for turmoil, the whole world. Instability, migration, and hostility among the great and small powers are cause for concern.

But there is profit in chaos (and no, not what you are thinking). We, as individuals, who live through the crucible of chaos have the opportunity to develop our true selves (please don’t take that in an flaky, “new age” sort of way), our deepest character and conviction that is at the core of who we are. The honor code, the force of principle that we must have and must develop to enjoy any sense of a meaningful, fruitful life that will see us through tough times.

I get my inspiration and that core conviction from the Bible. It is a personal journey, just like history, which is the measure of our experience in life, both personal as well as communal. Everybody has to face history.

So learn to see the tiny details, watch for what is coming and tackle those core principles you need to soldier through the tough times. It’s all part of the historical experience. Just don’t be a footnote of history, really live it!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

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Exploring Gateways to History: The Used Bookshop

Stepping into a previously unexplored used bookstore for the first time is akin to stumbling on that long lost tomb of King Whoever with the certain knowledge that inside are more artifacts of priceless historical value than you can shake a stick at. It is a place ripe with undiscovered adventures, knowledge, and surprises. It’s also addictive, so explore at your own risk, you may never find your way out!

Maybe the Indiana Jones-esque archeological connection is a bit much, but not far off. As a gateway into history (which you can read about in a previous post) used bookstores are an unmined field waiting to be excavated. Any bookstore can do the job, but used bookstores offer the advantage of old books, books out of print, and rare volumes along with the mundane. All of these are really, the fodder of history as they shed light upon a viewpoint that encapsulates the outlook and perspective of its time.

Old books are a slice of history, just as archeologists sometimes create a shaft in order to see what pieces of history are beneath their feet at a dig site, so too, is the experience of flipping through a book from fifty, sixty, or a hundred years ago. We see what people fed on, their thoughts, their concerns, their solutions for their time. These all inform the present, by the way, since those problems and solutions have become our own.

A gateway to history is something that intrigues us into wanting to know more about the past, to take a little time to study and appreciate all that came before us and to seek to learn from those successes and mistakes, problems, and stories. For some a gateway is a good biography or autobiography of an historical personage (a favorite approach of mine) since you get a compelling human story along with all kinds of fascinating historical tidbits about their time and place. Others enjoy a good historical film, with the caveat that you know the history in the film will most often be “adapted”, which means, changed, to make a spiffy or more exciting film. Sometimes a fun documentary will draw you in and make you want to know more. Maps of different eras bring up questions that need answers. Photographs of famous events or people strike up a curiosity for some.

There are many gateways into history, and as I crept carefully down the dimly lit, rather tight quarters of the little local bookshop the other day, I was struck again at the excitement and breathless sense of exploration that can emerge when you find a gateway and get set to explore. I found books that I was looking for, some that I already had, many that I had never heard of, and a few that I will have to go back again and read. I may not be able to buy them all, but knowing that little place is there to explore will rescue many a rainy day in the future!

Keep thinking history! Keep exploring!

– Amanda Stiver

EXPERIENCE HISTORY: If you are in the Massillon, Ohio area be sure to stop by the local used bookstore…

The Village Bookshelf  — 746 Amherst NE, Massillon, OH 44646

Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Trump – Holocaust – Year Without Summer)

“Today’s news is tomorrow’s history,” is a quote attributed to Judy Croome, a South African writer. However, the jist has long been known to historians, is ignored by politicians and celebrities, and has become the fight song of History teachers throughout the world…if only students would listen!

So follow along as we look at some current events, possible implications, and a few random pieces of history that should interest and amuse:

THE GOP PICKS A FINALIST:

DONALD TRUMP APPEARS TO BE THE GOP NOMINEE FOR THE 2016 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

It seems the era of American oligarchies may have begun (though it has surfaced now and again for decades). Mr. Trump has the luck of FDR with him at the moment…a promise of better things, regardless of the existence of a down payment. Mrs. Clinton is a known quantity with a great deal of baggage and bad health. Mr. Sanders plays well before but one audience, the young, starry-eyed Millennial population that has been taught to idolize the socialist ideal, but has never lived in its dangerous and constrictive borders.

Above all, Mr. Trump is shiner, wealthier, and exudes more power, and those three things play well in American elections, especially in an era of underlying financial recession (where the economy looks good-ish on the outside, but beneath it is in peril). The outcome remains to be seen.

Whatever the choice, it is clear the U.S. is barrelling rapidly away from the foundations of the Union, the Constitution. We are drifting perilously close to the shores of a confederacy, rather than a union of states. Love them or hate them, the Judeo-Christian principles upon which the nation was founded gave us greater purpose, cause, and humanity. Without that we tread toward a dark age (incidentally, those are never pleasant to live through, and most die in them).

TO REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST

An interesting news story re-surfaced this week thanks to the algorithmic aggregators of news that feed us our daily thoughts on Facebook as it followed on the May 4th and 5th occasion of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), commemorating the Jewish lives lost in the slaughter by the Nazis. Featured on the “House Beautiful” magazine website, it related the discovery last year by renovators in Holland of an inscription on a door. Written in 1942, it appears to be the last written testament of a Jewish couple in hiding during WW2 (Nikki Erlick, “A House Reno Reveals A Heartbreaking Message Etched Into A Door,” House Beautiful at HouseBeautiful.com, July 17, 2015).

A short, simple inscription in Dutch which said, “Look on the roof and find my last personal things and try after the war to find family of ours. Give them my things and you will become something. Oh God of Israel, have mercy on your humiliated brothers. Signed, Levie Sajet born at 1-8-1881 born in Nijmegen and his housewife Ester Zilberstein born at Stettin on the 28-7-1899.”

Tragic events in history can become so big and anonymous that we sometimes fail to relate on an individual level to those who have suffered. But such a short, sad witness to two lives must affect us. It must bring us back to the understanding that people just like us died then, and die now, and that murder is evil.

This tragic replay of history was cited in a quote by Mordechai Palzur, a Holocaust survivor and former diplomat, “I’m not sure that there is any improvement because we see that hundreds of thousands of people are being murdered and they are showing how they cut off the heads and so on and nothing happens [referring to the current conflict across the Middle East]. I would not generalize and say that there has been a change, but altogether from what we see today the people who were cruel then they are cruel today,” (Sam Sokol, “Against Orders, Some Diplomats Saved Jews During Holocaust,” The Media Line for The Jerusalem Post at JPost.com, May 5, 2016).

1816, THE YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER

Let’s take a step back, say, two-hundred years to 1816. It was, in many ways, a frightening year. The sun stopped shining brightly, crops failed (accounts speak of frosts in mid-June), and the warm, sunny productive season of Summer was nowhere to be found. Don’t worry, in case you are, it wasn’t man-made global warming, but rather…just plain old global cooling courtesy of the planet itself.

The reason, fully understood much later, was a volcanic eruption in the Indian Ocean. Mt. Tambora, erupting in April 1815, had sent ash high into the atmosphere, which manually blocked the sunlight from filtering down to the surface of the earth, where it was needed. Overall the year wasn’t an overly cold one, it just happened to get very cold right during growing season leading to crop failure and food shortages. Even Thomas Jefferson noted the phenomenon in his copious records keeping at Monticello. (Robert McNamara, “The Year Without A Summer Was A Bizarre Weather Disaster in 1816,” About: Education at History1800s.About.Com, November 27, 2014.)

Some historians even suggest that this dismal year for crops pushed restless souls west to seek better land, becoming therefore an impetus for the vast westward migration and settlement in American history. My own family, one of them at least, had just survived a stint in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in the disastrous invasion of Russia of 1812. He picked up his family a few years later in the 1820’s and departed the Swiss-German borderlands for Pennsylvania, a generation later his children would push west with the rest of the migration and settle in Nebraska.

The lesson, watch out for earthquakes and volcanic explosions that have far reaching consequences (I say this as we experience an increased amount of seismic activity in the Ring of Fire). Also, remember, an event here, a consequence there, and we, too, can feel the very pulse of history, if we are not careful. Events trigger other events, so keep your eyes open and stay the course!

I’ll be back next week to bring you another weekly roundup of tomorrow’s history!

Keeping thinking history in the meantime!

– Amanda Stiver

Getting the Story…the Whole Story

get-the-story-the-whole-story

Source: morguefile.com/eskodesign

HISTORY.   Or just, the news. When does the one become the other?

A hundred years ago the news was on the page of a newspaper, heard through the local telegrapher’s office, or announced at public meetings or church assemblies…or through gossip. Radio hadn’t quite arrived in 1916, and TV was a long way off, to say nothing of the Internet. So the news usually came at you…relatively slowly.

Is it slow anymore?   Hardly.

What do we owe our intelligence as consumers of this deluge of digital, video, audio or printed matter? We owe ourselves and we owe others the truth.

How do you get the truth from three minute video news stories. Twitter and Facebook posts of a handful of words? Instagram images that tell but one single thread of what ought to be a fully woven story?

TAKE YOUR TIME, QUERY YOUR SOURCES

FIND your way, slow the news down. Digest the story. Then consume another. Look at a story or news item as if with facets. Each side should be explored and there are usually even more than two posited sides of the story. Find those facets and analyze them by a standard of truth.

Find out the bias of the report you’ve just read or watched. Learn about the writer, the  news agency, what is their political interest, what is their national interest? Analyze the thread of logic. Seek wisdom, and if there is none, find out why.

Go to news sources outside your country, not because they are always right, but because as was wisely written…

“…in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14).

TRUTH

THERE is truth. You have to assume that somewhere, buried beneath the landslide of blather it exists. But to find it, you often have to put your own self interest aside. The greater good…what is it? The rule of law…what supports it? What precedents lead to good government? Good leadership?

And remember…after you find the truth, don’t let go of it.

History is made in the stacking up of events. News stories are made, in many cases, in the moment and for a moment’s notice.

Seek the long term. Find the history.

– Amanda Stiver

The Best Book of Biographies: Great Lives, Great Deeds

“We were knowledgeable enough to verify our information, reverent enough to respect the deeds of a hero without trying to deconstruct his every molecule, and still innocent enough to believe in heroic, altruistic, moral duty. We don’t live there anymore as a society and it would benefit us to look back at some of what was good about that era.” — Amanda Stiver

hat and artifacts on map

Image: Amanda Stiver

HAVING taken a break from talking history for a while, I come back in the midst of missing Malaysian airliners, war in the Crimea, tensions in the Israeli corridor, tragic shootings on a U.S. military base, ongoing economic sticky-messes, inept political leadership, earthquakes in California and Chile, and buffalo running a-muck in Yellowstone National Park… so more of the same, only different.

As always, or this site wouldn’t be called “HistoryGal,” I tend to look back to get a little perspective on the future. One of my favorite sources (parents and home-based teachers, this one’s a great resource) is a chubby collection of biographies by that superb purveyor of condensed books of old, Reader’s Digest. Titled Great Lives, Great Deeds it contains over 80 short biographies of famous individuals.

True enough, modern scholarship may make some of the information outdated, but generally the basics are accurate. Remember that all history rises and falls on the bias of those writing it, even current authors.

WHAT I love most of all about this book is the stirring way in which history was written. I consider it the golden age of American historiography (mid-20th century). We were knowledgeable enough to verify our information, reverent enough to respect the deeds of a hero without trying to deconstruct his every molecule, and still innocent enough to believe in heroic, altruistic, moral duty. We don’t live there anymore as a society and it would benefit us to look back at some of what was good about that era.

Of particular note in Great Lives, Great Deeds are the biographies of American revolutionary heroes. The account of Paul Revere, “The Midnight Rider,” by Esther Forbes is stunning. An excerpt, like much of Reader’s Digest material, it is from a larger work I have not yet read, but plan to. A very short sample:

“They who had so recently seen the stocky, benevolent old gentleman walking the streets of Boston could hardly have guessed that he was destined forever to ride a foaming charger, his face enveloped in the blackness of a famous night, to become in time hardly a man at all–only a hurry of hoofs in a village street, a voice in the dark, a knock on a door, a disembodied spirit crying the alarm–an American patriot who, on a moonlit night in 1775, started out on a ride which, in a way, has never ended,” (Great Lives, Great Deeds, Reader’s Digest Association, 1964, pg. 272).

THIS kind of history moves, the writing has electricity and it stirs us to greater devotions of our own, whatever the cause is to which we are devoted (we all need one by the way, preferably a good one). This kind of stirring writing is not unlike the Bible accounts of the great heroes, and sometimes anti-heroes, of the Israelite world and environs. When most people think of the Bible, they think of stories (hopefully not films like the recent non-version of Noah) and characters. This one did this deed, that one fought that war, this one stood up to this dictator, etc…

I like to talk about gateways to history. Interesting ways in which we can pique our curiosity and gain an appreciation for and desire to learn from history. Biographies are a fantastic gateway. They give you enough of a story flow to sink your teeth into, while still filling in historical details of one era or another that by the end of a biography you will find that you are somewhat of a burgeoning expert on a small section of the historical timeline!

SO if you can find a used copy of Great Lives, Great Deeds to add to  your shelf (it is out of print) then do so (it also makes a great bathroom reader). There are many other historical characters of note to get acquainted with like Winston Churchill, Simon Bolivar, Edith Cavell, Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Patrick Henry, George Washington… and many more.

Find a copy and make an exploration of history, person by person.

And as always–keep thinking history!

– 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