Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Understanding Backwards

History too often gets a bad rap.

Students dismiss it as boring. Politicians and others with a biased agenda abuse its factuality. But the truth is out there and available to any willing to take the time to search. Since that involves time and effort, history is either ignored or perverted.

“A land without ruins is a land without memories—a land without memories is a land without history.”

The poet Abram Joseph Ryan who penned those lines recognized that history is based on memory. Though not always accurate, history is important to a society. Thucydides rightly called history philosophy learned from examples.

As Soren Kierkegaard so aptly put it, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.”

As a writer and genealogist, I devote a lot of time to the study of history. Several recent events raised my optimism about public perception of history and its value.

Our historical society is located in the home of the last commandant of Fort Augusta, Pennsylvania’s largest provincial fort, which was commissioned for the French and Indian War and used through the Revolutionary War. Volunteers logged many hours to transform our former exhibit space into a more detailed interpretation of the importance of this historic site and the life of those who lived here.

Dedication of the new exhibit attracted more than 400 people and we have had a steady stream of requests since for group tours for families, clubs and school and scouting groups. The first of four scheduled Living History Days at the site of Fort Augusta was also successful and well attended.

Over the Memorial Day weekend my hometown of Shamokin held the fifth annual Anthracite Heritage Festival of the Arts, which also attracted larges crowds. While there’s plenty of emphasis on food and fun, history is not neglected in the mix which celebrates the mining heritage of the region and its polyglot ethnic society.

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