Thursday, November 15, 2012

take on history

columbus day (in the united states) is recognized on october 12, though the federal holiday was observed on the 8th this year, as it has been fixed to the second monday in october.

our study of christopher columbus last year started on that day and continued for a few weeks, as diana and i read nancy smiler levinson's christopher columbus: voyager to the unknown.  it appealed to us because of its non-textbooky nature; though it was long and detailed, it was in a storytelling style.  diana's art projects involved recreating a map of columbus' voyages as depicted by this author.

this year, we read through a new book together, discovering christopher columbus: how history is invented by kathy pelta.  again, i read aloud to diana, and we learned even more about columbus than we had before.  she was stunned to learn about all the ways in which columbus has been honored and memorialized in the u.s., especially in having so many things named after him.

in keeping with that, she decided to name her newly-acquired skull "columbo" and her toy spider "irving" after washington irving, who wrote biographies of columbus (along with two other stories she likes: "rip van winkle" and "the legend of sleepy hollow") .

besides learning even more about this historical figure, i was interested in how the author educated us about how history is created, or as she described it, "invented."  using columbus as an example, she explained what historians do, and how they argue and disagree and debate with each other and look for evidence to support their theories/refute others and build upon each others' work.  for a long time, i have employed the critical (not criticizing) attitude of "what's the angle?" when reading many, many things, but it wasn't until now that i really considered approaching history like i approach science.  it's not like i took everything i read about history as "truth" regardless of the source; of course, every author has a particular spin.  and i deliberately studied history in college through the women's studies department so that i could gain a different perspective than what i had been presented with in my education until then.

but this revelation that i could broaden and deepen my exposure to and understanding of history by viewing it the way a scientist would (remember, i was trained by and with the goal of joining the ranks of scientists) has sparked in me a curiosity that until now has either been dormant or nonexistent.

wow.  the power of exploring connections and inspiration from a book.  you never do know where it might lead.

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