A Consistent System

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September 7, 2010 by David Gillaspie

(Visit http://ohs.org/education/oregonhistory/ for more information)

History grows bothersome with lists of presidents, and kings, and wars; dates, documents, and decisions.     

Bad history should bother you.  It makes you turn away when it all starts sounding and looking the same.

On the other hand, good history draws you in.  Good history links culture and time the way good products bring you back.  You didn’t need the Old Spice Man to bring you back to Old Spice; you never left.

A competent history buff chooses a time and a culture.  For some it is the French Revolution, for others the unification of the Spanish kingdoms. 

Competence comes into play when you move to America.  It’s not all one place moving the same direction.  The same system a history buff uses to read and learn more about their European choices applies to the U.S. 

It just doesn’t seem that way at first.

America includes pre-contact people as well as early explorations.  It’s the frontier and the settlement; the land rush and the fill-in behind. 

The ties that bind America aren’t obvious at first glance.

The Northeastern fisherman had much in common with the Northwestern and Gulf fisherman.  The woodsmen of the south and the great north woods raise their axes to Northwest loggers. 

While those on the coast share common traits, so do those living inland.  Mountain people and valley people have as many differences as similarities, but they all live with the knowledge of their region.  What is the difference between the plainsman and the desert dweller? 

After irrigating the midwest and California, not much.

Discover the lively history of your place, the stories that can’t be told because they are too embarrassing, or told third-hand.  A second-hand story is too far, but not if it’s good enough.  Columbus used the only maps available, not the best. 

The story behind the story told by a friend of a direct participant isn’t good enough, but you can listen.  The story behind the story told by a participant is best, but it usually comes with conditions. 

Say, for instance, that a friend’s wife is working extra hours and volunteering for extra duties.  Say she’s a teacher.  You can tell something isn’t the same, but your friend says things have never been better.  A week later she runs off with a registered sex-offender. 

You hear his story and offer sympathy.  He interprets that as weakness and starts giving you marriage advice.

The story behind the story never gets told.

Another example: one mean teacher is married to another mean teacher.  The woman mean teacher runs off with her brother-in-law.  It’s not enough to think they both deserved it.  No one deserves that, just like no one deserves having a spouse run off with a registered sex-offender, but it happens.  They turned into nice people and no one noticed.

The story behind the story is the one you’re willing to believe.  If the regular story is good enough, if it makes sense to you, let it go.  But if it feels particularly close to home, start digging.  Think of the research done for family trees.  I’m not saying it’s a waste of time, but why not just call yourself the king or queen in whatever country you link back to and call it good.

Instead, dig into your state.  Dig into your county.  Look at the maps of the original land claims where you live.  As much as we know about shady land deals, (Manhattan, Louisiana Purchase, Alaska), you’ll find stories behind the deals.  

Schedule time with the museum.  Here it’s the Oregon Historical Society.  The benefit of seeing the professional history people is the list of resources you’ll have when you leave.

Family tree?  History museum?  Are you feeling old? 

Imagine the excitement when a hammer balanced on the leading edge of technology.  What did it replace?  What did it become?  Why so many shapes and sizes?

Look for the oldest thing in your town and find out what it’s made of.  Rock?  Iron?  Wood?

Report back with:

Object name.

Where you found it.

What it’s made of.

How it was used.

Make some good history today.  Start your own museum, and start it right.

(from dictionary.com)

Nomenclature:  –noun 1. a set or system of names or terms, as those used in a particular science or art, by an individual or community, etc. 2. the names or terms comprising a set or system.

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