Wednesday, May 25, 2011

For The Love of History

This magic moment . . .

Being Canadian, I get exposed to a lot of hockey — it sure is a part of our collective experience. This is especially true during N
ational Hockey League playoff times, and so I took pause when I recently saw a promotional ad for the Stanley Cup with the tag line of "History Will Be Made". It stirred something in me and so I went to YouTube to check out some of the videos. I saw this one:

As a gal that grew up in Edmonton in the 1980s, I gotta say, it teared me up a little. I remember loving to watch Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers, being a fierce fan, ignoring that it seemed like our home team was the envy (and aggravation) for all the others out there. But did I know I was watching historic moments with this team? I know I loved watching them win the Stanley Cup! Did I appreciate that The Great One was right at my doorstep, and that I was witness to one of the most incredible sports professionals ever? Maybe I knew this in my heart, because it seems to be the way I am built to feel history.

Ever since I can remember, I have been obsessed with history. Or maybe a better way to say it is 
story - his story, her story, their story, your story, our story. I have always wanted to know all the details of how we live our lives, from where your family is from to if you love your community down to what you had for breakfast (and if you ate it with your kin, or if you just grabbed a cup of coffee — no sugar — as you ran out the door). I believe I get a true connection with others through these vignettes, and I understand people better, as I get to see life through someone else's eyes. My love for museums and collections care grew from this love of history because, for me, it is objects that bring a tangible reminder of what has gone before, and how people have related to events, as the stories associated with those objects brings meaning to their experiences.

I find it interesting that social history in particular has grabbed me more than what used to be called "Big Man" history. Although the fascination of world leaders is engaging, I have to say it is the common experience of everyday people that has captured my soul. This year, 2011, has already had so many intense events - how will they be remembered? Will we document the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand? What about Japan? Japan suffered so much through the 9.0 earthquake, ensuing tsunami, followed by a nuclear crisis. The country is now faced with rebuilding, but it is still there and persevering through hardships with great strength. And North America has dealt this year with wildfires, tornadoes, floods. How has this affected who we are? Some have had everything swept away in a moment. But I ask you, once a great event is off the headline news channel, who will remember what happened besides those who experienced it? 
How do we not forget these events? What will the people who survived these events do now? Will they be scarred forever? Will they build a museum to remember those who did not survive, and how they came back, against all odds? Is this moment when it becomes history?

But it's not just natural disasters that make our history. I also think about politics. 
Did you watch what happened in Egypt with the birth of democracy there? What about the changes in British Columbia's political leadership, including the appointment of a new premier? And how about that Canadian national election? How do these moments register, for surely they do. How does it affect us? Who will document — or notice — the changes in our lives brought on by our leaders?

I also admit there are 'pop' culture moments that say something about us. Some say these things aren't important to witness, but I beg to differ. In April I had to defend my intense need to stay up all night to watch the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Katie Middleton, just as I did thirty years ago to see the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. We're talking about the potential king and queen of England here (but who's to say how this all turns out). I gotta bare witness, I just do, when I know these events are happening. 
And today happens to be the last day of the Oprah Winfrey show. One show might not mean much, but the last one? It's hard to resist the urge to watch the final airing of 25 years of television. (It's sort of like watching hockey playoffs, ain't it? History will be made today, too!)

What I have figured out is that we really live only in this moment; the rest, they say, is history.
 Through museum work, I am blessed to be a witness and one who preserves the story of what happens to us, and the stories of what came before. This act helps us share our lives with each other, and to share what has happened to us and our world with future generations. Doing work with museum collections lets my heart sing with history. Magic, for sure.

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