Monday, September 1, 2014

Common Sense(s)

What does history smell like?

Is there a taste of the 1800s that can help us understand the time period?

After struggling through American and European History classes in high school, my first job introduced me to the world of "living history", in which I was to role-play Lewis Cass, an agent of the US government trying to purchase land from the Native American people in Michigan (specifically, the Potawatomi people).  The resulting discussions with the school children were eye-opening, and the idea that history could be made more "3 dimensional" was energizing.

Later that season, I was able to attend the "Feast of the Hunters' Moon" in Lafayette, Indiana.  There, the smells, sounds, and tastes of the 1760s were overwhelming!  I purchased a "factory second" wool felt hat that has been with me for over 30 years, and has outlived about a dozen hatbands.

What was so intriguing?  It is the same thing that brings people to Robbins Crossing, or Colonial Williamsburg, or Gettysburg, or even to a re-enactment near home.  History is best engaged with multiple senses-not just on the pages of a book.  Please don't misunderstand- we CANNOT bring the past to life.  We still get in our cars and go home.  We probably won't die from a dental infection, and most of us bathe much more than once a week.  I KNOW it is a contrivance, but perhaps we can glimpse a little bit into the lives of the people who came before us.  Perhaps a smell, taste, touch, sound, or vision of a time past will help us appreciate the time present.  Perhaps this connection can help give us some perspective on our shared human experience, and keep us from shooting each other or dropping bombs on our fellow time travelers.

Sorry-didn't mean to get so DEEP!

Bottom line- can you make history come alive?  Can you infuse sensory experiences beyond the sound of your voice?  Can you bring people into a world they don't know, but EVERY ONE OF US had an ancestor who did?

And, contrary to the class in MY high school, maybe history can be a little bit fun!

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