Sunday, March 27, 2011

Show Some Respect!

Night At the Museum would have stank without Robin Williams. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth seeing just for his portrayal of Teddy Roosevelt’s statue. He bursts with energy and charisma. It redeems the rest of the movie, just like the penguins in Madagascar.

Unfortunately, I’m not posting about Robin Williams. In fact, I’m posting about a quote from Night At the Museum that you probably don’t remember, if you’ve seen it. Remember the girl that Larry loves? The one working on her PhD in history? She’s talking about Sacagawea, and there’s a certain way she does that seizes my interest…

“Sacagawea was like the ultimate working mother.”

That might not the exact wording, but it’s the general idea. She brims with enthusiasm when she says it. There’s a smile on her face. Sacagawea is her passion and her hobby; you can tell watching her talk about her.

I find it relevant because it’s the way that many people discuss history. They get that light in their faces. They get that verve in their voices. I’ve seen it in public high school, private Catholic school, and private Catholic college. Whenever people discuss what they’ve learned in a course, they use that sort of expression. Correct me if I’m wrong. My experience is limited.

If that is indeed the norm for Americans at large, then what I am about to say is especially important. I am in a survey course of world history with the excellent Dr. John Romano. Earlier this semester, he lectured about the Hittites and the Assyrians, and their rise and fall in the Near East. I don’t remember if it hit me while I was sitting in my chair, hearing him talk about the cycle of conquest and what king it put in power, or afterwards, when I was walking away from the classroom.

Somewhere it hit me. These things actually happened. This may or may not seem like a huge revelation to you, but either way I want to explain. Before now, I never thought of history explicitly as a story or fairy-tale, but I might as well have. History was in a different world than mine. It was a beautiful heritage, and fascinating stuff, but it wasn’t serious in my life. When I heard the name Hammurabi, my mind never processed it as the name of someone who lived, breathed, ate, and had a soul. Hammurabi had never walked in the same world that I did.

After that lecture about the Assyrians, I realized that he had. History had actually happened. Any doubts that I would minor in History were blasted away. Everything else that Romano lectured became twice as fascinating… and thrice as important. He spoke of Rome, and the Punic Wars, and the fall of the Republic, and for the first time they had the sting of current events. Real people had ambition. Real people got hurt when Caesar was killed. Caesar himself was a real person, behind the glitter and fanfare that his name brings to me.

That’s as much as I can describe. There’s only so much I can say about it. If you haven’t made the step yourself, I urge you to. It is important. America has access to thousands of years of happenings: our story. We could survive without knowing what happened before… or could we? What if didn’t even know how America came to be? What if we hadn’t a clue about the mellenia of mistakes and advances that leave us with the countries and conflicts we have today? What if no one wrote a Gospel?

I venture that our world would be much darker and uncertain. Perhaps more innocent, but I doubt it highly.

Whatever would happen, it is this vital importance of history that makes that quote from Night At the Museum so interesting. Notice how I described the actress, and other people I have known. She was bubbly and gleeful at her knowledge. I said the word “hobby”. If people think of history as something serious- something they are passionate, but still serious about- would they be as gleeful and bright-eyed as the students I talk to?

No. History bleeds with sackings, torture, and betrayal. When I speak of history, I speak not of dark stories like Sweeney Todd or The Cask of Amontillado. History is no fairy-tale. The atrocities in history are reality, and have implications. Based on the conversations I have with my peers and my elders, I do not think there is enough respect for history in America.

I tend to be skeptical about many things. If I am being too harsh, I want to know why. Until I do, if I see that actress gush about Sacagawea in Night At The Museum, I have a half a mind to yell, “Show some respect!”


  1. Well said (or rather typed)! You summarize what I love about history.

  2. Light bulb moments are so wonderful. Glad you had this one while you are still young :-)

  3. i half expcted this to be about robin williams. regardless, i enjoyed night at the museum about as much as i enjoyed hearing about how people kept getting pissed off and killing eachother for thousands of years. in all honesty, i could do with a little less knowledge about history.

  4. Thanks, everyone!

    Pat, I actually talked to Dague today about getting a minor in the subject.

    Adrienne, I hope it's not the last one I have, because they seem to be the only things sometimes that make me do anything.

    Jet Fever, I know who you are. Night At The Museum is not the greatest movie on earth. Without Robin, it wouldn't have a terrible lot going for it. History is our responsibility. Ugly, but necessary. We must learn how not to do what they did.

  5. OK, you caught me when it comes to talking about John Adams as well as the Revolutionary War period. Although that is true to some extent with history in general as well.
    & while Sweeney Todd is supposedly based on a real person the point is still just as valid.

  6. Good post. I've always loved history, but it's only been more recently (after my MA, even) that I've really devoted more thought to the lives of these people. I did archaeology more than just history, and it can be easy to get caught up in pottery or stylistic aspects instead of the actual people who made those things.

  7. Great post! There certainly is a lot of apathy with regards to knowing historical knowledge among Americans today.

  8. I still remember the college professor who gave me the gift of loving history. He taught American History without notes, like he was weaving a story..Most of the time you could hear a pin drop because he had us on the edge of our seats..
    Great post. I agree we need to have more respect for our American heritage.

  9. Thanks for reading!

    Al, what about John Adams and the Rev. War did I catch you about?

    Archaeology cat, thanks for the insight. I was worried my message wouldn't resonate with people. I find that fascinating. I don't think much about archaeology, but it is a vital business. The more clues you can find about what's happened in the past, the better. Yours is almost a sacred duty, in my mind.

    Caroline, it sounds like your professor was a true joy to have. My American history teacher in high school wasn't quite as good at that, but he was still great. And that was before I realized everything I wrote about here.

  10. And Teresa, I think it was Henry Ford who said, "History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's dam is the history we made today."

  11. You said: "I find it relevant because it’s the way that many people discuss history. They get that light in their faces"

    I can get going on & on about John Adamms, although I am about as bad when it comes to trains as well. & don't even start me on my Italiano heritage.