I have always viewed myself as somewhat of a material cultures kind of historian with a bit of oral history, public historian thrown in for good measure. I started amassing military items and collectibles from the age of four and began seriously talking to/interviewing veterans from the “Great War” through Vietnam since I was old enough to want to know more about war. I mean as a kid, I was like “Whoah, wait, you were in a war? War, war, what war? What did you do? Please tell me all about it it…..” I know that I had to be the biggest pain in the butt for many veterans. I am learning now, as I move forward towards getting my MA in History, that I made several stupid mistakes along the way. I did not start recording the interviews and questions until very recently and that their stories now are not technically documented as part of the historiography of the events which I found to be so fascinating.
This frustrates me because I have so many rich and detailed stories from all sorts of veterans; Army, Navy, Army Air Corps/Air Force, Marines, and not just from an American standpoint. I have talked to veterans, survivors, civilians, victors, as well as those defeated, and family members who have lost loved ones, from the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam to name just a few. There are always many different facets to a story and I have learned so much just from listening to their stories, some funny, some outrageous (bordering on near impossible, yet always documented with eyewitnesses and or photographs), some sad, and all extremely riveting. When you learn the true history behind history, you find that it is not always what is written in the history books. There is always a “bigger” picture. This is what the past is made up of; different cultures, different experiences, different stories, all woven together (as we learned in Thompson’s writing last week), to form a very rich tapestry of our past.
I have mentioned before that I consider myself a living historian, and try to immerse myself in the culture of past times. I have some insight into what it may have been like to live in the 18th, 19th, and early to mid 20th centuries, as I have experienced much of the daily grind of living during those time periods. This has been very enlightening and eye opening to experience these immersions, as when I read about certain events in history, I can kind of imagine, or reenact if you will, these events in my mind, as well in person. This helps me to use primary sources to help recreate, thus educate the public along the way.
As I mentioned earlier, I have amassed a large collection of original items or militaria over the last four decades, and now have a substantial amount of educational tools. These items allow me to tell of people and their lives, that without someone like myself, then these items may have been thrown away, and the people which they represent, lost to history forever.
I do feel that cultural history is a HUGE part of our history and that by incorporating this important part of our history into the historiography of our past, we can get a richer, fuller picture of the past. The old adage of “history is written by the victors” is one that proves that not everyone has had a voice in the past. As historians, we can change that, especially with the new advances in the way we are “doing” history. Those people that have not had a “voice” in the conversation of the historiography of certain topics can now be heard through us. We have the opportunity to be their voice. Their culture can no longer be forgotten or overlooked. We have the capability to “speak” for them, as long as we can verify the information as being correct. That being said, sometimes that one source, as in the case with the cat massacre, can open up a whole new dialogue, which can provoke more interest and research to be done on the historiography, which in turn gives us a much clearer picture in the end, or in some cases, gives rise to more questions about the past. This can create new ideas and hopefully will entice future generations to want to know more about their past, a past in which we now live in. Knowing this, we can hopefully provide a solid collection of information, from which they can draw from to learn more about their past.