Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Toward a Philosophy of History (for non-historians)

On Sunday, January 15, we three stalwarts of the Heritage Museum launched our small town’s centennial celebration by recruiting several friends to come in character and reenact the town’s first “public meeting,” about which we knew nothing and which most likely never occurred.

So with about 12 characters in costume, decorations graciously arranged by “Mrs. Lewis” (aka Lila), and enough food to feed 50, we spent the afternoon pretending to be someone else. What a hoot! Even the few non-participants seemed to enjoy our rowdy portrayal of Morrison in 1906.

Late in the day after most of the activities had ended and we were packing it up, a family arrived after a walk in the nearby park and through the local cemetery. Grandparents, parent, and several small children. Granddad said to me, as he perused our exhibits on local history, “As we walked through the cemetery, I told the kids ‘as long as we remember them, as long as we say their names, they’re not really dead. They live on in our memories.’ ” He saw the same names in our displays that he’d seen on the headstones.

Here’s a link to the people in the Morrison Cemetery.

This morning, I’m mulling over his comment, and wondering why history matters. “Does history matter?” seems to be answered, for me at least, by the fact that at Sunday’s gathering, folks sat around for hours discussing, okay arguing!, points of history and recalling people and events none of them were around for.

There is also ample evidence, even here on the internet, that history matters. My search this morning for blogs on “local history,” yielded 389,478 posts matching that phrase. Yet they were about local history. Tomorrow there will be one more, possibly hundreds more. Go figure.

Here’s one from today’s search that seems especially relevant: a thank-you note from a modern-day writer to a local historian.

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