April 4, 2015
What inspires you?
I have been asked many times why I like history. People relate stories to me about falling asleep in history class while the teacher droned on about an event that happened a hundred (or more) years ago. They tell stories of staying up late trying to remember the date of Spiro Agnew’s tenure as Vice President or how they struggled memorize the list of U.S. Presidents. And, sometimes with shivers or tears, they remember how a history teacher berated them in class for failing to read the thick and boring 75-page, small print chapter in the history textbook.
People ask me with understandable amazement: why do I like history?
It inspires me!
Now, I’m not going to deny anyone’s experience about the sheer boredom of a history class. In fact, I have sat through (or slept through) my share of butt-boring history classes myself. But history inspires me.
I can drone on and on about how history was—and still is—failed to be taught like it should be. I want to change that. One of my goals is to bring history to life. I see history as a collection of stories about people and their lives. Our lives. For me, history is about individuals and I never want to lose sight of the individual. But history is also about glorious works of art, science, medicine, architecture—not just politics and war, which is how history is often taught (and how it was taught to me). The Civil War. World War I. World War II. Vietnam War…you get the idea. Boring–and it is only a small part of the magnificent story of the human experience. So, I started doing my own research and discovered that there were people living between those wars and conflicts. I discovered how people lived. And I discovered that people were doing fascinating things—they were making history.
The stories inspired me–and they still inspire me.
For example, I read about Bessie Coleman (1892 – 1926) who was the daughter of sharecroppers but decided that she wanted to be an aviator. As an African American woman in the 1920s, she was denied entry to pilot school. But she studied French and moved to France where she obtained her pilot’s license. Queen Bess (as she was known) became a stunt pilot, parachutist and aviator. She also became the first American ever to earn an international pilot’s license.
I learned about Matthew Henson (1866 – 1955) who, after the death of his parents, left home at age twelve and joined a cargo ship where he travelled the world. He then became a member of the team to reach the North Pole. He learned the Inuit language and learned arctic survival skills such as building igloos, hunting and dogsled driving. He ultimately guided the team to the North Pole. Although he is often forgotten (or neglected) in history books, he was known for many years as the “first man to sit on top of the world!”
I learned about Sophia Danenberg who, on May 19, 2006, became the first African American woman to climb Mount Everest. She only had a month to prepare and she actually made the climb in two months. She was sick with a sinus problem and frostbitten cheeks but she pushed through the bad weather and reached the summit of Mount Everest. Then she climbed 19 more peaks after Everest!
And, of course, I am moved by the strength and courage of so many other people who reached other high peaks and achieved their dreams.
These stories are also a part of history. They made history. They inspired me. And they still inspire me.
That is why I love history.
What inspires you?
We all have the “thing” that inspires us. It could be basketball, physics, music, poetry or something entirely different. Finding the “thing” that inspires you is important for your success and happiness. It will comfort you when you’re down. It will be your “go to” when you need that boost. It will support you in bad times, boost you in good times and inspire you all the time. So, I ask again: