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Don’t Know Much About His-to-ry

When I interviewed for this job at IHS two years ago, one of my interviewers (I blame Ray Boomhower, but I'm not entirely sure it was him) asked, “Do you like history?”  Whatever I said must not have been too offensive because I’m sitting here now, but I wondered, “Do I?” Here’s the truth.

Kim's grandpa
My grandpa, John Patrick Easton. Isn't he handsome?

My grandparents and great-grandparents were immigrants, so my own American history is short. I was born in Connecticut and moved to Indiana when I was in high school. That means I learned a lot about the 13 colonies and literally nothing about Tecumsuh, Lew Wallace or William Henry Harrison.

Yes, I took U.S. History in college with all the other liberal arts students, but it was an 8:30 class, and I can’t say I enjoyed it. 

I'm a reader, though, and I’ve always loved reading about people in different times and places. (Does the subject matter – criminals, sensational court cases and conjoined twins – make it less historical?) I’m drawn to European history – I went through a serious French Revolution phase, devouring any book I could get my hands on about Napoleon and Josephine and Marie Antoinette. 

Though I’ve probably received most of my U.S. history education from historical fiction, good reviews compelled me to read biographies of Abigail Adams, the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln and even Hoosier Madame C.J. Walker – way before I worked here.

But what brings history home? We say it all the time around here, but it's the stories of ordinary, real people. And the connections we make personally to the past. 

This is World War II to me: Memories of my grandfather showing me where his bellybutton should be and telling me it “got shot off in the war.” (To this day, I don’t know if that’s true. My dad won’t tell me. Evidently, sense of humor is an inherited trait.) It’s also my grandmother telling me about riding a hot, overcrowded train with my infant father on her lap to visit her husband on the military base. Those are my stories.

But when I walk into You Are There 1945: Hoosier Home Front at the History Center, I make connections. I look at the ration book in my hand and wonder how I’ll feed my family of five. I hear Mrs. Watson talk about how worried she is that she hasn’t heard from her son in a month, and my heart breaks as the mother of a teenager. It hits home. Yes, I experience it. I’m not a history buff – I’m not even an Indiana girl – and I experience it just the same.

So the answer is, “Yes, I like history.” Or maybe the right answer is, “Who doesn’t?”

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Comments (3)

1. Janet says

May 10, 2010 at 4:53 p.m.
Love it!

2. Laura says

May 19, 2010 at 10:29 p.m.
Nice post, Kim. I'm not much of a history buff, either. I agree with you that it's all about the people and relationships. The "names and dates" stigma just gives history a bad rap. Also, its great that you're promoting history appreciation in alternative ways to studying the facts, such as actually experiencing it as it happened, listening to stories and seeing the past. Personal interpretation is powerful stuff.

3. Kevin says

July 14, 2012 at 4:53 p.m.
We would like to thank you once again for the stunning ideas you gave Janet when prprneiag a post-graduate research and, most importantly, pertaining to providing each of the ideas in a single blog post. Provided that we had been aware of your web site a year ago, we will have been rescued from the nonessential measures we were employing. Thank you very much.