Posts Tagged ‘History’

The Many Ways We Can Read American History

October 17, 2011

The Many Ways We Can Read American History

by Jon Foyt


Clio, the Muse of history, you may recall, is one of the nine ancient Greek muses who represent the varied categories of knowledge. Clio is usually pictured holding a parchment scroll. Her name translates into “recount.”

Today history may be recounted in a variety of ways. Thus we might picture a modern-day Clio holding multiple sets of scrolls, each representing a different way to read or recount history.

Last month in Rossmoor’s Fireside Room, author Ted Nace described one way to read history, that being via the Supreme Court decisions relating back to the birth of the Republic and the creeping legalized increase of corporate power. Supreme Court decisions also concern themselves with such vital issues as women’s rights, aid for the handicapped, Social Security, Medicare, historic preservation, and a multitude of issues affecting our lives. Pick your topic, and you can follow its legal evolution through relevant Supreme Court decisions. That’s one way to read history.

Remember those school days when we read about the reigns of European kings and queens? The study of royalty and its many dynasties was another historical path. Then there were the wars to read about and trace through time with the development of weaponry from crude to modern-day complex. We could follow the stories of ethnic groups and glimpse their cultural history, which leads inevitably to the story of human migration in which at varying times in history we, or our ancestors, all participated.

Migration suggests the study of time, and how different cultures view time, from Native Americans who think of time in a circular fashion, whereas most other Americans view time as linear…then…and then…and then. How each of us views time may influence how we read Clio’s scrolls.

Trouble is, most of these different ways of reading history avoid the emotional experiences of the “common” person, that is, the non-regal, non-super rich, non special interest group members wearing their corporate-issued cloaks. Unrecorded, except in personal memoirs or anecdotal media stories, are the everyday accounts of the anxious and the unemployed seeking jobs in a jobless market, and those trying to understand and cope with today’s mystifying medical world with its bewildering plethora of drugs and complex insurance codes.

Also unrecorded on any scroll are the challenge of addressing one’s marriage and family, along with the struggles for economic and emotional survival in a recession-era economy. More positive, but also missing, is the successful search by us common folk for the ringing melodies of happiness.

Robert Samuelson, writing in The Washington Post, compares Census numbers on American poverty, to previous data, observing, “The Great Recession is different… The standard trends measured by Census (income, poverty, health insurance) are incomplete. (These figures) don’t fully convey the recession’s effects on Americans’ welfare and psychology.”

He goes on to reference the “devastating housing slump, which has subtracted huge sums from people’s wealth,” and “parents’ fears for their children.” These sorts of concerns are yet another way to read that familiar American history which many of us in Rossmoor have personally experienced. Today, right in our secluded valley, we can’t help but recognize the vivid contrasts between past events and the dark sides of today’s economic nightmares.

It is these many “common” unrecorded stories that fall into this vast category that Clio should “recount” in one of her scrolls. She might then address a joint session of the Congress, directing her scrolls toward those conservatives who shy from solving the list of issues affecting the common people. After her Congressional address, Clio might virtually shake those distant and distracted politicians into recognition of a more enlightened and progressive way of reading the common people’s history.

Yes, Clio, dear Muse, do expose those whom we elect to pubic office to a closer look at the real world surrounding them, one that is populated with real people leading real lives. The result would be to instill in these representative accounts of individual stories with their worries, their hunger, their illnesses, their people buried in medical bills, past due mortgages and overdue rents, while haunted by their own joblessness. To see today’s true picture, multiply each account by millions to arrive at the truest way to read current pages of American history in the making.

Jon Foyt, a Rossmoor published novelist, can be contacted at: