The Terrain of History

Excerpted from a lecture I gave at Berea College (what a charming campus) in winter 2013: The Carter G. Woodson Memorial Lecture.

The realm of the past, the terrain of history, is a mysterious place. It is not here, but there – off in the hazy distance of time. History is unrecoverable in its fullness. We cannot ever really know what happened back then. We can only grasp the shape of the past by looking for traces left behind by the people who came before us, our ancestors, our ancestors relations, and our ancestors’ adversaries – written documents that have been preserved, oral stories that have been told, buildings and objects that have been restored, still images and photographs. Carl Becker, a Cornel historian who thought deeply about the purpose of doing history, wrote in 1932: “the greater part of these events we can know nothing about, not even that they occurred; many of them we can only know imperfectly; and even the few events that we think we know for sure we can never be absolutely certain of, since we can never revive them, never observe or test them directly. The event itself once occurred, but as an actual event it has disappeared” (“Everyman,” 221). Continue reading

An Introduction

Hello! Welcome to my very first blog post. I look forward to connecting with you here on the thoughts that tumble through my mind when I’m walking the dog, cleaning the house, or shopping for my kids’ Halloween costumes – going about the daily work and experience of life, that is. I’ve titled the blog “3H: History, Home, Horizons,” because those words evoke the main themes that I think about these days: History in all of its diversity, difficulty, richness, and magic; Home as the place(s) where we dwell and build our identities – from the close and fragrant corners of our grandmothers’ kitchens to the vast and simultaneously finite space of the planet Earth; and finally, Horizons, the quest to imagine a view beyond the rocky hillsides – the serious social and environmental issues that we face today. This blog post is not edited. It is me writing to you, usually in front of the window of my second-floor study at home in Ann Arbor, usually with a child calling “Mama!” in the background and a cat scratching at the door. Thanks for being here with me. Please do not expect perfection.