December 3, 2008

History - Apathy, Revisionism and Raves

As I mentioned on Monday, the day after Thanksgiving, Beth, Owen, Mia and I decided that the cool thing to do would hitting the newly re-opened Smithsonian Museum of American History. It had been closed undergoing renovations for two years. My history degree-having self was curious to see it. And Mia wanted desperately to see Dorothy's ruby red shoes. When we crossed the border into Monkeytown it became clear that our idea was flawed. It was a nightmare of tourists, pedestrians and traffic. I dropped Beth and Mia off at the museum while Owen and I spent the next half hour trying to find a place to park. It pissed me off. I almost let Owen drive. Then he and I waited in line to get into the museum. Once there, I dialed Beth's cell, told her to find us, and Owen and I hid from the massive throng of crazy history nuts.

Now, I've never been to a rave so I'm probably talking out of my ass but a rave is the only good reason that many people should be together in the same building. We were packed tight. I expected the lights to go down and electronic dance music to start blaring at any moment. I expected someone to offer me a glowstick, a hit of ecstasy and a bottle of water. I expected a mound of blow in the bathroom. But no, just a lot of people, most of them very young or very old. Yet, while I was stuck in that massive sea of people, I came to a cool realization. There were tons of people, there, gathered together to look at history. They could have headed to the mall to buy shit they didn't need and trampled other shoppers to death. They could have bought tickets to Twilight. But no, they checked out some history. And that's pretty cool. I mean, it was a pain in the ass for us but, overall, pretty cool.

It got tricky answering some of Mia's history-related questions, though. Trying to answer them reminded me how complicated our history - and current events - is. Take the following examples.

The Topic: Thanksgiving
The Questions That Resulted from My Explanation I Gave: Who are the Indians? Why did the settlers leave England? What is independence? Why didn't anyone respect their religion? What's starving? Why didn't they fly from England? Are Indians mean or nice? Or jump? How long does it take to sail from England to America?
The Explanation I Should Have Given: Once upon a time, some people sailed a really big ship from England because they were tired of the fog and boiled meat. When they got here, they instantly bonded with their friends, the Indians. The Indians helped them plant crops. They lived happily ever after.

The Topic: America's Independence
The Questions That Resulted from My Explanation I Gave: Why did we want our independence? What are taxes? How did we fight England? Are we still mad at England? Why couldn't we be friends with England? What does spangled mean?
The Explanation I Should Have Given: A long long time ago mean English guys wanted the colonists to pay for living here. And instead of doing that, they decided they wanted to be free, like Ariel wanted to be free to visit the surface and fall in love with Prince Eric. So they said get out bad people and after a while of arguing and really bad manners the English said okay and left. Then we gave England a big hug and became really good friends.

The Topic: Abraham Lincoln
The Questions That Resulted from My Explanation I Gave: Did Obama beat him? Why isn't he still our president? What is assassination? What is slavery? What's a civil war? Did the north not love the south anymore? He's not our president anymore but we still love him, right? Why did they make a memorial out of him? Was he really a giant? Did he find the Gettysburg Address so he could tell the mailman where to send it?
The Explanation I Should Have Given: Once upon a time, Abraham Lincoln became the president and he wanted everyone to be nice to each other. But there were still lots of people with bad manners who didn't play or share the country nicely. So they argued a lot. But Mr. Lincoln settled the argument and brought everyone together after which he went to the theater to see an early adaptation of The Little Mermaid and later he died.

The problem with history is that it's complicated and sometimes pretty rough. Talking about history exposes my daughter (and all kids) to some pretty dark periods that I'd rather she not know about. Also? Some history is fucking depressing. I mean, how often does a chapter of our history end with and everyone was happy and had a great big party or they lived happily ever after? Rarely, if ever. But, as the saying goes, to live in ignorance of our history is to be doomed to repeat it. Also, I, as a parent, understand that I am much more sensitive to the baggage these ideas carry around with them; kids just see the truth without the symbolism, the ideas, the perceptions with which we color them.

For a long time, I thought American society was a fairly apathetic one, my generation especially. The past election proved me a certain extent. So I guess that instead of bitching about the long lines, the crowds, the asshats that cut me off while I was pushing a stroller (and seriously, people need to stop cutting off moms and dads pushing strollers or one day I'm outfitting mine with a cattle prod) I should actually be congratulating society for giving a damn about its history. Yay you. But you could have saved me a place to park and gotten the fuck out of my way.

Are you a history fan? What do you think are the most important events in history?

Posted by Chris at December 3, 2008 6:36 AM

I will say I am NOT really a history fan. But obviously having gone to college at two different times in my life, I think I definitely appreciated it more when I went back to college after my divorce for another degree. I think as a 20something I was rolling my eyes and thinking about what was for lunch or if Friends was going to be funny that Thursday night.

I am interested in Women's history which fascinates me and I'm still amazed how far we have come.

The Vietnam War era especially because my father served and interviewing him for school papers. As well as history of my own hometown and interviewing my yiayia years ago before she died about her experience coming to America through Ellis Island and working in the Amoskeag Mills in NH. I could have listened to her talk forever.

Posted by: Deirdre at December 3, 2008 8:05 AM

OMG, do I love history? DO I EVER!!!

There is so much I am fascinated by, including European History, Political and Government History, the settlement and development of America...our family history, ancestry....oooo, the list goes on. When we first moved to our little seaside town, we bought a house that was 250 years old, built by a Sea Captain, and still boasted the original wide plank floors hidden during the Revolutionary War so that the English soldiers wouldn't confiscate them to build English Warships. Oh it was like living history, that house oooooozed history.

I wish we lived closer to Washington honestly. What a wealth of resources to have at your fingertips!!

Posted by: chatty cricket at December 3, 2008 8:14 AM

Hee - so what IS spangled?? What a funny word!

I would also like to outfit our stroller with a cattle prod. Seriously, what is wrong with people?!

Posted by: Shelly at December 3, 2008 8:16 AM

BIG!!! We are talking BIG History fan!!! Hubby and I have visited almost all of the Civil War Battlefields now, reading and talking about what happened there, and when we go to different countries we make excursions to their historical sights as well.
So many people do not get into history and unfortunately those that do not are bound to make the same mistakes, right?

Posted by: Maribeth at December 3, 2008 8:16 AM

I'm a HUGGGEEEE history fan! My town was founded in 1670 so there are old houses and monuments and gravestones and the historical society museum and it ties in with my love of family ancestry research - the whole what brought us to where we are today thing.
I'm dying to get my husband to go to Washington DC and just soak it all in.

Posted by: NancyJak at December 3, 2008 8:22 AM

History? Love it. I love seeing how all the pieces fit together to make a whole, how things ended up the way they did, why people did what they did, how such a tiny change can mean so much. History is one of the one reasons why I'm still vehement about my nationality and one of the reasons I'll still stick up for America. But I'm getting sidetracked.

I got from the Indians to the beginning of the Civil War in the American school system. I then got the medieval times from William the Conquerer up through the Black Plague and part of the French revolution in normal high school. Then for my iGCSEs, I pretty much got the Russian revolution, parts of the first world war and the formation of the League of Nations. I think it's horrible that my knowledge of history is so spotty (my mother refuses to admit that I can't name the last five US presidents) but I love reading whatever I can about it.

Beyond that we should learn from our mistakes, it's also downright fascinating. Though I liked your explanations to Mia and had to laugh. :)

Posted by: Hannah at December 3, 2008 8:34 AM

I remember an era when everyone was happy and things were good. 3 words, my friend. The Clinton Years.

Posted by: Robyn at December 3, 2008 8:40 AM

Yep, I'm a buff. My wife teaches American History to high school students as well. We've been to Monkeytown a few times, and love it every time. I look forward to taking our kids some day. Since it's a flight for us, it'd probably be best to wait until we can explain things without the Little Mermaid Filter (tm).

I'm most infatuated by the biggest bangs in American History such as the Revoloutionary and Civil wars, and the many wars of the 20th century. I get the most joy out of the social movements though, such as rights to vote, civil rights movements.

D.C., for all it's faults, is like an amazingly huge museum. Love that.

Posted by: Brad at December 3, 2008 8:44 AM

Huge history it! I think it's fantastic that so many people were out at the museum rather than standing in line at Best Buy at 5:00 AM on Thanksgiving weekend.

As for the greatest event in history? There are so many choices...the civil rights movement, WWII, Man's first walk on the moon...but I'm going to have to go with the most important event of, not Nixon....the formation of The Ramones! :)

Posted by: Claudia at December 3, 2008 8:53 AM

I've always been a huge history fan. I read history books for recreation and the books on CD for the long drives to the relatives always have some sort of non-fiction historical flavor. I've always focused more on military history because it tends to bring every facet of dramatic effect into focus. Without a doubt, the Revolutionary War and the French and Indian War make for amazing reading/listening. When I was growing up and girding my loins for the military, I became a WWII nut and read everything I could find.

History's awesome, but a study of certain parts of it (mid-1800s to 1917, for example) does tend to remind us as a country that we've had our moments of severe moral bankruptcy, as well.

What does spangled mean?

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at December 3, 2008 8:59 AM

i think the part about Lincoln finding the Gettysburg address so the mailman knows where to send mail is my favorite part of this post. So precious! i love it!

Posted by: madmom at December 3, 2008 9:06 AM

I'm definitely not a history buff, but I suppose you could say I enjoy it, since I'm currently going back to school to be a social studies teacher. I didn't enjoy history at all until a couple of years after college, when I realized that it was just stories about people, and that all my teachers had been really boring. All the classes I've taken since have been pretty intriguing and educational, and I've enjoyed them.

I want to be a teacher that helps kids realize that history is not entirely boring, and might actually be useful in understanding life.

And, I hope to never have to answer "what does spangled mean?"

Posted by: Kelly at December 3, 2008 9:48 AM

I love history. One of my major courses right now is on that (I'm a poli sci major) and it's the only one I've got a 100% on everything. LOL well that's because I suck at everything else... hehehe when I was in DC my dad took us to aaaaall of these places and museums, he's really big on visiting history places OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. I'm not THAT extreme, but I do admit to watching the History Channel while eating popcorn and it actually feels the same as an action movie to me.

Posted by: La Petite Belle at December 3, 2008 9:52 AM

I love History - was almost a History major until my dad said he would not pay for school. I am NOT EVEN going to tell you what degree I ended up with (it was not English but I considered that one too and he put the kibosh on that one as well...)

One of favorite shows this summer was a PBS show called History Detectives. That museum totally rocks - we went pre-reno and I still dream of going back to see 10,000 sq ft we missed!!

Posted by: Christina at December 3, 2008 9:57 AM

Was Abraham Lincoln really a giant? Heehee!

Posted by: Stephanie at December 3, 2008 9:59 AM

Most important event in history? Why, my birth of course!!

Isnt there an option for public transit to museums in DC? I'd love to visit the Smithsonian's been a lONG time.

Posted by: jessica at December 3, 2008 10:22 AM

Um. I think most of my history related questions sound similar to Mia's.

Posted by: k8 at December 3, 2008 10:24 AM

I like this one of your more serious posts. And I especially like the Little Mermaid aspect of history.

Posted by: Heather at December 3, 2008 10:48 AM

i LOVE history. lately i have been obsessed with the 20th century in general. but particularly the great dust bowl and the early sixties. last year i was really into the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Posted by: kati at December 3, 2008 11:27 AM

I'm not really that into history. I like your amended explanations so much better than the reality of what happened.

Posted by: Kimberly at December 3, 2008 11:39 AM

I'm a huge fan of historical nonfiction. Right now I'm reading Meacham's new book on Andrew Jackson, "American Lion." I highly recommend it.

History holds endless fascination for me. As Emerson said, "There is properly no history, only biography."

Posted by: Kalisa at December 3, 2008 12:48 PM

Also, I grew up in Arlington, and I got to say, you can't beat field trips to the Smithsonian. Mia will have such a priviledged childhood (historically speaking).

Posted by: Kalisa at December 3, 2008 12:52 PM

i'm OBSESSED with history. always have been. but you're right. there are some dark, dark parts. and my kids are fascinated. try explaining the HOLOCAUST to a 7 and 6 year old...that was fun...

Posted by: ali at December 3, 2008 1:24 PM

Alas, my kid still can't pronounce Backyardigans, and your's is all Gettysburg Address! Assassination!

And a rave? Maybe the worst reason to cram a whole bunch of people in one room.

Posted by: Mr Lady at December 3, 2008 1:43 PM

The most important historical event/period of the last 100 years was the Spanish Civil War. This terrible period in human history inflicted almost 500,000 casualties as most of subsequent WWII combatants tested out their weapons on war on the Spanish Population. It provided a laboratory for all involved to push towards the destruction of WWII only a few short years later. The complictness of all involved; including America, Britain and France who abandoned the Republicans who were winning when it became apparent that they would institute a popular focused citizen style government that would be ardently opposed to the Allied wish for economic domination of Spain. Pretty much the story of the imperialism/foreign policy for the US of the last 100 years.

The Republican government that controlled Catalonia for those few short months in 1937 were the last hope of an example of truly free and representive government. Every "free" government since has been a wolf in sheeps clothing.

Go buy George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia". He was among the first volunteers to flood Spain to fight for freedom. It is a dramatic first hand look at one of the most unknown but most important periods in world history.

Hemingways "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is another work of art that speaks of the horror visted upon Spain and her peoples.

Just a sad reminder of how terrible we can be to each other.

Posted by: Chris at December 3, 2008 5:14 PM

I LOVE your explanations. There is no chance in our family, where any celebrated days are an opportunity for my dad to whip out multiple media files explaining in waaaay to much detail about everything.
I mean, honestly, by the time they brought around MLK Day I was like - this guy? I can quote all his speeches by heart since i was 6 and now he needs a DAY too?
But it helps to know all this stuff since racism and sexism when they come, come at you hard and it's nice to be ready.

Posted by: That Girl at December 3, 2008 7:38 PM

That girl asks some mighty smart questions!!

Posted by: Heather at December 3, 2008 7:57 PM

As another History degree toting individual, I love history. Every time I think I find my favorite period, another one grabs hold of me - been reading lately about the Vel d'Hiv in WWII (talk about dark!).

Wrote my senior thesis on the Civil War and Civilians, worked at a National Military Park (the one with the Address). LOVE Monkeytown and am so jealous that Mia has so much so close (tried with all my might to go to school there, just couldn't pass up getting paid to go to school).

Posted by: Melissa at December 3, 2008 8:10 PM

My father and future husband majored is history with the intention of teaching it (neither did that).
Up until the last six months of high school I had the same history teacher who was burned out on teaching and read from the text book and we were always behind schedule. I struggled to get above a C and hated that class. It was dry and dull.
Then she left teaching and I got Mr. Perry who gave us five times the work load and was enigmatic and passionate- and I every day I could not wait to get to history class.
For the first time in my school career I actually learned in History class.
Over the years I've always enjoyed being around when a history buff friend or boyfriend has verbally gone off on an event or civilization from the past. There is so incredibly much I don't understand and don't know.

Posted by: Karen at December 4, 2008 1:38 AM

Since history is a progression of events it is difficult to pinpoint on specific event. I love history and especially American history and the two events that fascinate me most are Battle o Gettysburg and D-day.

and I have a slight crush on Alexander Hamilton.

Posted by: William at December 4, 2008 6:42 AM

I have no favourites in History. All of it was pretty spectacular.

Posted by: Aurelia at December 4, 2008 7:44 AM

I really wanted to go in there when I was a tourist (sorry!) in August, but alas, closed. We did hit the air museum which was pretty cool. Well, at least she'll be prepped for her history classes! I hate to think what her questions to the teacher will be then!

Posted by: Dianna at December 4, 2008 11:56 AM

I love history. I really don't know why I don't have a degree in it.

I cry when I read to my (9 year old) about slavery, or the American Revolution. I cried on election night. I'm a sap. My daughter is conversational in Pearl Harbor, the Civil War, and Some National Parks. I love that she knows that stuff, even if some of the questions are hard to answer.

Posted by: Brooke Habecker at December 4, 2008 1:25 PM