Sunday, December 04, 2011

Static History...It Doesn't Exist

We would like to think that history is static meaning that it never changes. 
We would like to think the history we learn in school will be the same history our children learn, but it can't be.  
History does change.
Time marches on creating new history and existing history changes over time as well.   Each new generation analyzes past events based on their context - what they are currently experiencing.  The further we get away from a particular event points of view change, new variables come into play shaping the events, and attitudes shift over time. 
New resources such as journals, letters, etc. come to light all the time to give new interpretations.  New archaeological evidence is discovered that can change historical events dramatically.
Last year an interesting discovery was written regarding Africans and the Western Hemisphere.  It seems 49 skeletal remains were found by archaeologist working at the colony of La Isabela in present-day Dominican Republic.  The colony was founded by Columbus during his second voyage to the New World in 1493. 
1700 souls helped settle the colony and when 300 remained due mainly to disease and starvation Columbus finally abandoned the place.
Last year the reports...this one included...advised two of the remains found were thought to be of African descent.   If this is proven we could be teaching students within a few years that Africans reached the New World possibly 150 years before we previously thought, and it might possibly turn out they came here of their own free will since their arrival pre-dates known slavery.  The last update regarding the testing and analysis of the situation is the one I linked to above.  I haven't been able to find a new update.
When I was in elementary school Christopher Columbus had a very tall pedestal and went from THE man who discovered America to one of the men who discovered America.   Then there was the discussion regarding how you can discover a place where folks were already living there, and the most important change in the story came about when we began teaching how natives were treated once Columbus arrived.  Many educators were actually criticized for giving the Columbus myth a black eye, yet we cannot keep teaching the same story once new details are discovered.
Yes, history changes.
Sometimes history changes because corrections have to be made.  The other day I was writing an installment of my local history column and discovered a slight error regarding the travels of Benjamin Hawkins, an Indian Agent, through the wilderness of Georgia and Alabama in the early 1800s.
You can find my post, Credit Where Credit Is Due here.

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