Somewhere back in the cobwebby sections of my brain, I have all these random historical facts and trivial notes filed away. They are occasionally brought out and discussed. I have raised the issue of historical significance on this blog several times. I talked about the notable events of the 1980s and 1990s in conjunction with the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. My work place offers up a "this day in history" on our internal webpage, which elicited blog posts on February 20, March 7, and April 9, to name a few. Do a search of my blog with the key word "history" and you'll get most of the posts.
Mary's post got me thinking about history and what (and how) do we remember certain events. In my comment to her post, I said:
Thanks for another great post, Mary. As a former history teacher, I am ashamed to admit that I had to remind myself about what happened at Dunblane. While looking it up, it struck me that you were there one day after the anniversary (it happened on March 13, 1996).We have had discussions around the lunch table about when "current events" becomes "history" and we will marvel at ADR's command of arcane sports trivia and we will debate whether something has more historical significance than some other event. Even sporting events aren't immune - we had a rather boisterous discussion about Tiger Woods the other day. I would maintain that his arrogance on the golf course diminishes the historical significance of the accomplishments of those who came before him. Now of course, you can say that records are meant to be broken, but you don't have to like it, if you don't like the person doing the breaking (see also Barry Bonds).
Kim's comment about Lockerbie still resonates with me though. I believe that you certainly will identify with events that took place close to you or to which you have a personal connection.
Of course, as students of history, we are all victims of the old adage, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." When these current events happen we are always reminded of similar events from the past, but then they, too, just become history.
And I don't know how to reconcile that. How do you decide what's important? Well, I've said my piece, but I think this discussion may come up again over at my place.
When I posted about the notable events, C in DC, added in her comment about a shooting that took place at the University of Iowa, which again only registered slightly in my psyche. But it was big for her, because she was there. Obviously, one will give more significance to an event that you have a personal involvement with. In the modern world, news flashes around the world instantaneously. Our own personal circumstances must filter onto the onrush of information, lest we all be overwhelmed. If you have school age children, you likely paid more attention to the Columbine shooting (or Dunblane). Parents of college age children reached out to their children at the Virginia Tech Massacre. Do we diminish the significance of the event if we don't have the proper reaction to what is clearly a tragedy to those directly involved?
We clearly will identify with events that took place on or around significant dates in our own lives. For example, I can tell you that the American flag was raised for the first time over New Orleans after the sale of the Louisiana Territory on December 20. My birthday is that day.
We make parallels to events when we hear of them. Today is March 27 and the internal work page informed me that "on this day in 1804, the Louisiana Purchase was divided into the Territory of Orleans and the District of Louisiana." So that little nugget will be filed away next to the factoid about December 20. But I might not recall it as easily.
There are three other events that were noted on the "This Day in History" section today:
- On this day in 1874, Robert Frost, the American writer who received three Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry, was born in San Francisco.
- On this day in 1979, the Camp David peace treaty was signed by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at the White House.
- On this day in 1982, groundbreaking ceremonies took place in Washington, DC, for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
In 1979, as a sixth grader in J. Irving Baylis Elementary School, I was ushered into the all-purpose room with most of the school to watch television coverage of the signing of the Camp David Accords. Then, it was believed that all was going to be better in the Middle East. Hey, how's that working out?
I remember the controversy surrounding the Vietnam memorial. Yet now, I will bring visitors there and it is an incredibly moving experience. I will often get a lump in my throat and I will be reminded that my brother was spared a trip to the jungles by the virtue of a high draft number.
I don't know what I'm getting at exactly and I've rambled on long enough. Here's your assignment - How do you define history? What historical events have impacted you most? If you made a list of your top 10, would your list look like the person sitting next to you, in another country? Why or why not? Discuss.