Archive for October 9th, 2008


The Values of History

October 9, 2008

Good discussion going on at Smaller Indiana about history, one of our favorite topics here at Hoosierati. I had some difficulty responding to the question posed by Pat Coyle because it appeared to pack together 3 different questions:

  • Why is learning history important?
  • Does our contemporary American culture value its history?
  • Is our culture stronger or weaker than other countries in applying historical wisdom?

I addressed the first and third questions on Smaller Indiana, so let me take up the second question here. If you assess contemporary American culture by the yardstick that seems to matter most – money – the answer must be yes. (Disclaimer: I don’t personally think that yardstick does matter most, but let’s consider the argument.) The top box office hit of all time, Titanic, was based (obviously) on a historical event. Next, the category of U.S. History on yields 334,488 results, which seems like a healthy number of books on the market. Thirdly, the history of various civilizations provides a rich source for the elements of fantasy and literature that contribute to contemporary art and the games industry.

To take another approach, consider a couple of uses of the past that have gained in popularity and should be on a trajectory to increase. One is genealogy and family history. Online sources for genealogy and a Baby Boom population approaching retirement age will no doubt keep this trend on the rise.

The second popular use is historical tourism. Our friends at the National Park Service, a contributor to the Indiana Humanities Council’s Resource Connection (NPS has 329 entries and counting), provide enjoyable, free historical adventures for families. We have three sites here in Indiana, Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and there are many more all over the country. (By the way, I like their tagline: Experience Your America.)

So history is valued as part of the commercial mix of our contemporary culture, history as “infotainment.” Yet it is also for many Americans—genealogists, local history researchers, historic reenactors, readers—a personal passion, a value beyond dollars and cents.

This entry was posted by: Nancy