Tuesday, October 19, 2010

100% manmade

If you’ve been around me on long drives or at holiday gatherings then you’ve heard at least part of this theory. It comes out when I have people trapped and they can’t comfortably escape from either a moving car or a room full of others, just as crazy, folks. For some reason it came up today while L. and I were driving to the Metro and may have followed on from some talk of Euclid and geometry and doing proofs in stone. What? They had paper in the days of Euclid? That will be much funnier in a bit.

I have this crazy position that American History, as taught in both our high schools and colleges (remember the classes American History to 1865 and American History after 1865 as core courses?), essentially goes like this:

Eli Whitney
The Civil War

That’s it. Nothing more. If you try to draw a rudimentary timeline of what happened and how things tie together, based on what we actually teach, you’d find that a lot of Americans would nearly conflate Columbus as tour guide for the Mayflower. Seriously. If he wasn’t Julie the Cruise Director on the same voyage as the Pilgrims than it all happened within a few years of each other. How about if we look at it this way: Columbus = 1492, the Mayflower = 1620. Alright, students, give me a quick run down of what happened, here or worldwide, in that 128-year gapping hole of American learning. I’ll wait.

1513 – Ponce de Leon lands on the coast of Florida
1565 – St. Augustine Florida becomes the first European colony in North America
1607 – Jamestown, first English settlement in America, is established
(Whoa! Where are the Pilgrams?)
1619 – First representative assembly meets in Jamestown. First African slaves arrive.
1620 – Mayflower arrives


1492 – The Moors conquered in Spain by Ferdinand’s troops
1497 – Vasco da Gama sails around Africa
1503 – Da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa
1509 – Michelangelo paints Sistine Chapel. Henry VIII ascends to English throne
1513 – Balboa sails the Pacific. Machiavelli writes The Prince
1519 – The Reformation starts in Switzerland. Mexico is conquered by Spain. Magellan sets out
1520 – Luther excommunicated
1527 – Rome attacked by troops of the Holy Roman Empire. End of the Italian Renaiassance
1535 – Reformation begins in England. Henry VIII makes himself head of Church of England after being excommunicated by the Pope

…and on and on.


The problem we have in history is too many dates and mindless trivia. I don’t care if you can give me the year the Mona Lisa was painted but you should have a ballpark figure based on other events. I don’t care if you know the exact dates of the American Civil War but you should say something like the mid-19th century. What we should also be able to do is recognize what’s happening around the world that affects, or affected, what happened here. I think that Henry VIII thing might be important.

And yes, I used Wikipedia.com….sue me. But, I’m a product of the system, I love history, I’ve read quite a bit (not so much American), and it’s all quite shallow even to me. When you don’t have any stuffing to prop open a space it simply collapses upon itself.

In the end, you wonder why Eli Whitney didn’t just bring a cotton gin over on the Mayflower with Columbus.


No comments: