October 18, 2012 | Vol. 116 -- No. 26

More of us need an appreciation of history

The Cheney Cemetery Association surprised me with something last week I never considered receiving.

I was asked to speak at their annual meeting Friday at the United Methodist Church, something not unusual. I have spoken to groups and classes during my tenure at the Cheney Free Press and am always ready to do so. It’s a fascinating career being in the media, despite the reputation and the criticism – sometimes deserved – we receive.

The association asked me to speak about how we develop topics for stories. After my talk I stayed for the rest of the meeting because, having attended a previous gathering, I knew I’d probably learn something for a future story.

I was right.

But half way through the meeting, association historian Helen Boots stopped the discussion and presented me with a certificate of appreciation for the work I have done in helping promote association activities while writing some stories about what they do. To me, that was just doing my job but to them, it meant a lot.

And it means a lot to me to receive the award because what the cemetery association does is more than just keeping the grass mowed, the weeds cut and the stone markers in place at Cheney’s three cemeteries – Fairview, Green Mound and New England. The association is really custodian of Cheney’s history, keep records not only about who was buried where and when but also accumulating, where possible, family histories that tell stories of our past and reveal in some cases how the city got to where it is today.

And to me, that’s what makes this award meaningful because I am a history buff. I love the genre and ingest information in all forms on all topics whenever and wherever I can.

Remember history? It was probably that class in high school you found really boring because all you did was read and write, or in college that you needed as a graduation requirement, getting through mostly on borrowed notes.

History isn’t well appreciated in our country. Every so often a story comes out about a survey undertaken where people are asked and fail to correctly identify some of the easiest pieces of our country’s past, like what year was the Constitution written or when did the War of 1812 take place.

Believe it or not, some miss that last one.

It’s too bad there’s a lack of respect, and therefore knowledge, about history because history is a record of how we got to where we are today. And as is often said, and I think truthfully, if you don’t know where you’ve been, how can you know where you’re going?

If more people had a better sense of history, even something as easy as recent history, I think we’d be better capable of making informed decisions on many issues thrown at us today. For instance, if we knew more about the Great Depression, and how long and what it took to get out of it, we’d be less likely to believe those who say we should be emerging faster from the worst economy since those 1930s and 1940s.

If we knew more about the presidential election of 1824, we might be less likely to view today’s electioneering so negatively. If we knew how close the world came to nuclear conflict 50 years ago this month because of events in a tiny Caribbean country, we might be less willing to thump our chests about possibly attacking Iran.

And if we knew more about a guy named Mark H. Kellogg, we might realize how much better the media is today than it was over a century ago. I’ll let you learn about this on your own.

History is important, all of it. But in the good ‘ole U.S.A., history is often about who was last year’s American Idol, which team won the 2010 Super Bowl, or the more glamorous yet trivial aspects of our lives. That’s unfortunate, because when we do that we create a truncated national consciousness and a diminished sense of who we are.

That’s why groups like the Cheney Cemetery Association are so vital and important. And that’s why I thank them for the best award I have ever received.

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