History from the Past

17 Dec

As a historian, it is imperative that I stay up to date on the latest scholarship. However, I also find it interesting to read what earlier historians wrote. Several years ago, I was in a bookstore that specializes in older publications and found Our First Century: Being a Popular Descriptive Portraiture of the One Hundred Great and Memorable Events of Perpetual Interest in the History of Our Country, Political, Military, Mechanical, Social, Scientific and Commercial: Embracing also Delineations of All the Great Historic Characters Celebrated in the Annals of the Republic; Men of Heroism, Statesmanship, Genius, Oratory, Adventure and Philanthropy by R. M. Devens.

Our First Century

Man, they really knew how to title a book in those days. In short, the book, published in 1879, chronicles the first hundred years of United States history. My favorite part of the title is “the One Hundred Great and Memorable Events” in our nation’s history. What did historians in 1879 think was important? I have read different passages of the book and have been surprised by some of the choices. These are some of the more interesting chapter titles.

“Appointment of the First Minister Plenipotentiary, from the New Republic to the English Court” – an entire chapter about John Adams meeting King George. Interestingly, there is just as much about this as the Articles of Confederation, our first government.

Did he cut his hair before meeting the king?

Did he cut his hair before meeting the king?

“Greatest Defeat and Victory of American Arms in the Indian Wars” – one section of this chapter is called “Death Knell of the Savages”.

“Death of George Washington” – an important event but one that is not covered much today. I believe that the life of a person is more important than their death, unless their death affects history directly.

I have always heard that he was bled to death.

I have always heard that he was bled to death.

“Total Solar Eclipse at Mid-Day” – which I am sure was important on that day, but I am not sure why it would be included in a book about the history of an entire nation.

“Career, Capture, and Execution of Gibbs, the Most Noted Pirate of the Century” – a pirate that I have never heard of, but he most have been a bad ass.

No parrot? No patch? He was a pirate?

No parrot? No patch? He was a pirate?

“Sublime Meteoric Shower All Over the United States” – is something else that past historians found important but may be fading into history now.

“Expected Destruction of the World” – is something I cover in class. William Miller predicted the end of the world in the 1840s. It didn’t happen. Here’s some advice. If you start your own religion and want to predict the end of the world, then predict it to happen a long time in the future. When it doesn’t happen, you won’t be around to take the heat.

He miscalcelated slightly.

He miscalculated slightly.

“Invention of that Wondrous Piece of Mechanism, the Sewing Machine” – a lot of fingers were happy about this.

“Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea, by Lieut. W. F. Lynch” – was it important? I don’t know.

“Murder of Dr. George Parkman, a Noted Millionaire of Boston, by Prof. John W. Webster, of Harvard College” – Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations is a great book about this event and the profession of history.

“Brilliant Musical Tour of Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale” – Who was Jenny Lind, and did she sound like a nightingale?

Later, Little Richard would sing a song about her.

Later, Little Richard would sing a song about her.

“Appearance of the Marine Monster Known as the Sea-Serpent, Along the Atlantic Coast” – already looking for monsters in 1851. Bigfoot would be proud.

“Unrivaled Performance by Paul Morphy, the American Chess Champion” – eat your heart out, Bobby Fischer.

His home is now Brennan's, a great New Orleans restaurant. Now, that's important.

His home is now Brennan’s, a great New Orleans restaurant. Now, that’s important.

“Astonishing Feats of Horse-Taming Performed by Mr. John S. Rarey” – sometime between the firing on Fort Sumter and the Battle at Bull Run, the horse whisperer showed up.

He's no Robert Redford.

He’s no Robert Redford.

Are these important? I reckon everything that has happened in the past is important.

6 Responses to “History from the Past”

  1. John December 17, 2012 at 12:58 #

    I find this kind of stuff fascinating.

    • Rick December 17, 2012 at 16:11 #

      So do I. It’s cool to see what people in the past read and found interesting

  2. 최다해 gongjumonica December 18, 2012 at 03:02 #

    I am always fascinated with the life in the past. People’s lives are mostly deeper, meaningful and less complicated. I am talking about the philosophers and those peaceful times, not the wars and genocide.

    • Rick December 18, 2012 at 04:55 #

      Obviously, I find the past very interesting. I also think it’s interesting to see how they viewed their own past.

      • 최다해 gongjumonica December 18, 2012 at 05:24 #

        As a historian, that’s what I expected from you. Hmm. What will Hitler think of himself when he is forced to travel back in time and watch what he had done?


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