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Jess G

Creativity in History

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I always find myself described by the creativity you can find in unexpected places.  I have two words for you:  Public. History.

No, not the kind of history you just barely tolerated in high school, or the Harry Potter brand of history wherein the professor literally falls asleep during his own lectures.  For those who aren't familiar, public history refers to things like museums, national historic parks, battlefields, historic houses, even some types of historical fiction (Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels is a rather well-known novel that gets a lot of people interested in the American Civil War).  

Public history is communication.  Communication is creative.

Sometimes it's obvious--places like Colonial Williamsburg (if you've never been, WELL worth the price of admission) do a thing called first-person interpretation.  Guy dresses up in an eighteenth-century suit, introduces himself as Thomas Jefferson, and with only a little bit of suspension of disbelief it really does feel like you're talking to the man himself, successes and mistakes and all.  Sometimes it's more subtle.  I recently started working at a museum about prisoners of war.  How do you make people care?  Not by talking about American POWs in the Revolution, and then the War of 1812, and then the Mexican-American War, and then the Civil War, and so forth.  You usher folks into a room with a few dozen rifles trained on the center and have them listen to real interviews with former POWs about the stressful and frightening experience of capture.  Then you talk about living conditions.  Rights, and their violations.  When or if one might expect to return home.  Show them a Red Cross box and ask what they would want to find inside.  You focus less on the Civil War-era tin can and more on what it might have been like to dig a well with one because the internment camp's only water source is polluted, and you have no other tools.  The effect is disarming.  It doesn't let you look away.  It makes people a little bit uncomfortable.  But that's what makes them remember.

And that, as I see it, is basically what history is--remembering to care about things that happened in the past because they matter.  Because real human beings suffered and made others to suffer, which for better or for worse influences our world today.  Public history is how we communicate that to people who don't spend an inordinate amount of time reading dead men's diaries. 

If you have a historical museum or preserved site near you, I encourage you to visit.  Take a guided tour.  You might be surprised at what you find.

What other seemingly ordinary or dull things have you all found creativity in?

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Ack!  Surprised, not described.  :)

Thanks for reading my little ramble!

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