From my first blog entry to the present, I have written of my belief that so many of our personal and our political mistakes can be avoided if only we learn from history. (See "I Love History," 1-3-2012 and "Year's End," 12-30-2011 in the Blog Archives.)
I follow a wonderful blog titled "Brain Pickings" that always gives me ideas for reflection when I find time to visit it, and a recent posting inspired this week's blog with ideas taken from Erich Fromm (1900-1980), William James (1842-1910), and contemporary Dominican American writer, Junot Diaz. A common thread in their writing inspired me to consider the challenge of creating interest in information in a world so filled with competing distractions.
|Artist: Artero Espinosa|
My desire to tell Isaac's story and share the important history of a region that was the center of the Progressive Movement in the late 1800s is driven by what I see as the importance of knowing that history so that its experience can guide us today.
A contemporary Dominican American writer, Junot Diaz, (born 1968) expresses how art can play a role in educating readers in a rapidly changing world. In an interview, Diaz said: "One of the best things about art, as anyone who's studied a Victorian text knows, is that the future comes faster than we imagine, and there is a future coming up, of young artists and young critics and young scholars, who are thinking in ways that make the current conversation about our art look incredibly reductive."
One important role for writers of history, I believe, is to make what we write relevant to young readers so that their perspective is not limited to their own experiences. There is a certain arrogance that distances both young and old from each other. A positive thing about young people is their confidence in themselves, but it tends to blind them to lessons of the past; a positive thing about older people is the wisdom they have gained from experience, but it tends to blind them to the innovation necessary in a changing world. Writers of history must find a way to bridge both of those chasms in attitude that separate young and old.
|William James (1842-1910)|
Any parent or teacher already knows that the typical teenager only pays attention to what interests him or her. Likewise, if we are honest, by middle age most adults no longer pay much attention to the culture shaping teenagers. If capturing the attention of differing ages of people living at the same time in order to create a common experience is difficult, it is understandable that writers of history face an even greater challenge to capture the attention of readers about a historic period about which the relevance to their lives is not immediately apparent.
|Newsboys (eyeing newsgirl) from the 1800s|
In the same day's newspaper, Yamiche Alcondor, who is covering Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, described the world his supporters were experiencing: "the anger at Wall Street; the indie rock anthems; and the kiwi slices consumed aboard his campaign plane" align Sanders's appeal to the cultural moment "for liberals, young people and union workers." In short, again quoting James, "Interest alone gives accent and emphasis..."
Whether you are a politician shaping history or a writer sharing history, you will not reach potential voters or potential readers unless you can capture attention in a world so filled with distracting appeals, or as stated by James: "My experience is what I agree to attend to..." No matter how compelling nor how significant the lessons of history may be, they can only shape the minds of those living today if they are noticed. Providing a reason for reading history is the responsibility of writers who believe it is important to share that history.