Monday, November 8, 2010

What is History?

            What is history?  Some have defined it as a list of names of important people who lived a long time ago that did not own laptops or posses the ability to text their friends.  Others argue that history is found in textbooks and on dusty library shelves where one can learn of explorers who sailed to foreign lands and politicians that won elections.  However, these descriptions of history lack a personal link as to how history is in fact connected to our daily lives.
            In actuality, history is the story of every subject that has even been – science, religion, disease, war, discovery, exploration, routine schedules and diplomacy, and on and on.  It includes narratives of great people who lived but also just as important, stories of the “little people” - those who may have not been named in the newspapers, but still made a great impact on the world around them because of what they accomplished where they resided along the historical timeline.  History is the record of wars between nations and decisions that were made which affected thousands of people.  History is also the daily routine of a mother on the prairies of Nebraska in the nineteenth century, working hard to feed and clothe her family each day and in every season.  History is following the path that leads to the ever-increasing complexity of life among nations, societies and individuals.
            History is comprised of cemeteries, museums, monuments and old journals. History is remembering your first grade teacher, your grandma’s potato casserole recipe and watching The Sound of Music.  History is sitting for hours in the back of an automobile on a family vacation and finally getting a chance to escape from the car, only to have your Dad read a big brown sign about an Indian battle that happened where you now stood.  After returning to the car, that Indian battle plays over and over in your mind for the entire next hour as you see, in your mind’s eye, the Natives lined up along the horizon, ready for battle.  History is walking into a grassy field just to see the wheel marks left by covered wagons. History is looking at the moons of Jupiter through a telescope and realizing that Galileo looked at those same faint objects and learned so much using a lesser instrument than you have before you.  History is looking at old dates and realizing that your great grandmother died three days before you were born and wishing you had the chance to meet her.  History is staring for a long time at an old photograph and willing the people who are staring back at you to tell just a bit of what their day was like.
            History is seeing the interconnectedness of all times, places and people and realizing that even though some of those lives are so distant from our own, that we have something in common.  It is recognizing that those lives that were lived so long ago were just as important as our lives today and that we are not superior because of our sizable amounts of knowledge or technological advances.  History is about bringing the people of long ago to life – putting flesh on their bones and helping others see them as tangible individuals with families, livelihoods, successes, and fears.  History is about allowing people that went before to be pleased that they have been remembered by subsequent generations. 


  1. History comes alive with the words you choose and the images you thereby conjure up as you share your feelings and experiences through your words. With your ability to paint pictures with words you should write a history book! I would love to read it...

  2. I was surprised you didn't add that history is blogging. My personal blog is a record of what is happening in my life. While it isn't as personal as a diary, it still contains insights into my life.

    I have also thought of history as a context between times. When reading books, you often start to see patterns—similarities between characters, plots, or situations. The same can be true with history. You can draw conclusions between times to see how people have changed over the years, or how they remain the same.