ROSE NOLEN: Today's history presents a more exciting view of the past

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | 4:02 p.m. CDT; updated 5:04 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I enjoy reading history. This wasn’t something I enjoyed in school. It took me several years to make sense of why this was so.

I hate war and it took me a long time to realize that the early history books were mostly about war. What I wanted to read about was how people took care of themselves in earlier times. I wanted to know how they made their clothes, how they washed and ironed them, and how they preserved their food. I never understood why I couldn’t find all this out in the same book. It wasn’t until women began to write history that I began to enjoy it.

I guess men have a different understanding of history. I guess this is because men went off and participated in the wars and women stayed behind. That’s why, I suppose, it never occurred to men that history was also being made behind the scene. It took us quite a long time, for example, to find out what the men in the Daniel Boone family were up to when they weren’t fighting enemies.

Anyway, somehow during my lifetime of reading I missed reading about the War of 1812 that occurred a couple of hundred years ago. I learned about it in a strange way. I was a passenger on an Amtrak bus coming home from Kirkwood. This was a few years ago at a time when the tracks were being repaired. The bus driver was accompanied by an Amtrak conductor.

The men were obviously old friends and wasted no time getting into an obviously favorite conversation. The bus driver began by commenting on a book he was reading about Thomas Jefferson and before long they began discussing the War of 1812. The more they talked, the more interested I became and by the time I got home, my first thought was to get to the library the next day and find out more on that subject.

So, I have undoubtedly missed a lot of historical reading because of my need to know not only who won and who lost the battle, but all the details in between. Sometimes, the incidents surrounding the main story are as compelling as the body of the story itself.

Nowadays, I’m always disappointed when I encounter high school students who don’t embrace history. As far as I’m concerned, the writers of today present history in a far more exciting fashion than did the writers of yesterday. So, as I see it, there is no reason to dodge the printed word today as I did in the past.

In addition to reading about the past, there are so many different ways of learning history today. You can watch movies, plays or television dramas that focus on major historical events. Museums, libraries and historical societies are constantly offering lectures on various people and events that make up our past.

It still bothers me that I waited so long to find out about the War of 1812. I was amazed that America came so close in that war to losing everything it gained in the Revolutionary War. Since then, I have been constantly reminded of how important it is to be mindful of our freedoms and privileges. And it sometimes helps to look over our shoulders and profit from past experiences.

I’m glad that today’s history writers provide us with big pictures of the activities going on around us while we seek to right our wrongs and deal with the many problems we face. They present us with the major sides of issues, giving us an opportunity to weigh them for ourselves.

Today, I’m always listening, waiting to discover some other historical material I may have overlooked in my search for details.

The clock is ticking.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or emailing her at Questions? Contact opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Richard Saunders May 29, 2012 | 4:54 p.m.

I've found the works of David Hackett Fischer to be fascinating as they detail history from cultural perspectives. "Albion's Seed" focuses on four major waves of immigration from Europe which he calls "American Folkways." Upon reading this material, one gets a sense of the regional identities that still exist to this day, along with an understanding of why. Each folkway is broken down into various subjects, so it also works as a reference book for immediate comparison.

Then there's "Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement" which follows the Virginia Folkway west into Kentucky and beyond.

For an even more cultural look at history, he has written "Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas." This book looks into the ideas of liberty and freedom by looking into their artistic representations throughout the colonies. As it is filled with images, it makes a great "American" coffee table book.

He has written several others, but these three fall firmly into the category of viewing history through a different lens.

BTW, thanks for writing an article for once that isn't politically polarizing (as politics is evil, and you're better than that).

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