Wednesday, December 31, 2014

History Relevancy Campaign Pt 2: Our Selves

Note: This is part 2 in an 8 part series on the History Relevancy Campaign, based on an article titled "The Value of History: Seven Ways It is Relevant" from Public History News Vol. 35, No. 1.

Note: Any quotes designated by an asterisk (*) come from that article.

Special thanks to the NCPH as inspiration for this series.

From the campaign's call to action: We believe that history --- both knowledge of the past and the practice of researching and making sense of what happened in the past --- is critically important to the wellbeing of individuals, communities, and the future of our nation.*

"Our Selves: 1. Identity- History nurtures personal identity in an intercultural world."*

In describing his book Profiles in Courage, President John F. Kennedy said, "It is a lesson to all of us that courage is much more than bravery on the battlefield; that it can mean acting according to your beliefs whatever the consequences." (Profiles in Courage, 1964 Young Readers Memorial Edition, "Letter to the Reader") Those beliefs are a substantial part of our personal identity. This identity is in large part a result of our own personal histories.
One of many family reunions.

Many individuals' first interactions with history are in the form of family get-together's. Reunions, holidays, special occasions, and birthdays allow us the opportunity to interact with the elder generations of our family who teach us about who we are and where we come from. These lessons help children form permanent attachments to their past and start to develop moral, political, and religious perspectives that will follow them the rest of their lives.

My father's side of the family. Grandma and I spent many a day looking at our family tree.

My maternal grandparents and great-grandmother. Grandpa has a penchant for classic cars, Grandma has one for cooking, and Great-Grandma for sharing stories.
I was fortunate enough to spend much of my youth with grandparents and my great-grandmother. Along with lessons about how to change my oil, the appropriate temperature to bake cookies, and how to distinguish between turnips and weeds, each shared stories from their lives and the world around them. These stories were often interlaced with photos, newspaper clippings, and fun memorabilia people collect over the course of their lives. If you ever want to see a true American cultural history museum, look through my grandmother's file cabinet. J The small memento's we all keep for sentimental value are future tools for historians, archivists, and students.
Especially in the internet age, authentic information and life experiences are valuable. While most think that a grandparent's tales of how they met their spouse and that crazy day at the office are humorous, they miss the fact that each holds nuggets of information about finding the right person and developing work ethic. While the nuances of these values change over time, the basic foundations of citizenship and interpersonal relationships come from the tales from previous generations.

Two simple projects to explore how identity is shaped by history are by trying to make a family tree and a family crest.

Creating family trees (or genealogy for the sensitive) is a great, and inexpensive, opportunity for people to explore their own family history and to interact with family members. All that is required is a sheet of paper and a phone (although other resources are available depending on how sophisticated you'd like to be). My mother is fond of and all the opportunities it provides. So far, we've traced back to the mid-seventeenth century with ours.

The first project my wife and I took up as a married couple was to make this family tree for our mothers.

Another relatively inexpensive project is creating a family crest. Sometimes, you'll get lucky and one already exists. If not, you'll have to make one. This can also be a great option for families wishing to start anew with a crest that expresses the values they hold. Stephen Slater's The Complete Book of Heraldry: An international history of heraldry and its contemporary uses (2003) is a good place to begin this project. While the title implies otherwise, Slater's book is a pretty good read and provides a foundation in the theory, design, and history of crests in simple fashion. Again, these can be as simple as a drawing on a sheet of notebook paper, or a gigantic wood-burnt 4-H project.

Yes, I did make that. It's about 3' x 1 1/2'. No, I don't make them anymore.

Activities such as these are simple ways that you can incorporate history into your life and help foster interest in younger generations. Taking simple steps to encourage your family members to interact will help lead to more fulfilling family functions that have a lasting impact on our collective future.

No comments:

Post a Comment