It probably won’t come as much of surprise that I am crazy about history. I don’t ever remember not being interested in everything historical, despite exposure to the usual succession of dry-as-dust history teachers in both public schools and college. This of course, is the standard reason for being turned off by history and it irks me that this is the case. Because it is my experience that EVERYONE is interested in history when it is presented as a living, breathing event that happened to somebody else – maybe a relative of yours – and maybe a long time ago.
After all, history is just stories – family stories, adventures – and if presented correctly can make any trip more meaningful because you not only see what there is to see, but why it is the way it is, or where it is, or what it might have become with just the slightest alteration of events.
I’m interested in all kinds of history – with the possible exception of battles and military maneuvers – and in fact majored in English History for two years before switching to American History after being introduced to what was then an entirely revolutionary concept: social history. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was the kernel of what became the concept behind my tour company.
But this blog isn’t about tours. It’s a place where I can spout off about a few of my opinions on the large and small events of the past which interest me. And hopefully, it will occasion a few responses. The only rule is the same one I have when on tour: NO POLITICS, unless of course, it occurred in the past!
So here goes: (Please feel free to jump in)
I was thinking recently about the recent docudrama, “The King’s Speech”, which in itself is an excellent example of history being made interesting by presenting it in an entertaining way: as a narrative story. I had, of course, known about the king’s speech impediment from my studies, but had never heard a hint of his employing a speech coach. Don’t know if the royal family was ashamed of it, or if nobody thought it was interesting enough to publicize, but in any case, I missed it.
Another thing that fascinated me was the fact that the first commoner in the British royal family, George VI’s wife, Elizabeth, was portrayed so imperiously by Helen Bonham-Carter. Was she really that way, I wondered, or was she more like the public persona presented to the public: the sweet, much-loved Queen Mother? It was well-known that she despised Wallis Simpson, probably on moral grounds rather than the Constitutional issues which swirled around the Crown in1938. But what in her humble background made her so haughty – at least as portrayed in the movie?
It is tempting to take this a step further and speculate on how she managed to produce such an emotionally detached daughter, after creating a – highly unusual – loving and tight-knit household, so thoroughly opposite to the usual arm’s-length child-rearing method employed not only by the British monarchy but the entire upper class of that country?
OK, enough on personalities. The political issue behind King Edward VIII’s abdication was presented in the movie as always: David (as his family called him) loved a twice-divorced American woman and since British royal protocol forbade him to marry her, he quit. But just the week before I saw the movie, I had seen a documentary on cable TV called “The Nazi King” which posited the theory that it was really Edward’s fascination with Hitler and the Nazi Party which caused the constitutional crisis. It even went so far as to suggest that Hitler had promised the throne of England to Edward after he conquered England. I certainly hadn’t heard that one before!
True or not, it is food for thought. And also leads to my near-obsession with the “What if?” game. Those of you who have traveled with me, or are readers of my history website (www.exploretheoldwest.com) know that I love to speculate on what might have been if only the slightest change in events had occurred. There are obvious ones: what if Custer had listened to his Native Scouts, who informed him there were heap big numbers of Indians on the other side of that hill (and immediately commenced singing their death songs)? And subtle ones: OK, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t impact an event or life dramatically if it were changed. Thank you, Frank Capra (“It’s a Wonderful Life”)
All actions have consequences and are instructive to ponder. The more ideas we come up with, the better the discussion. And this is why I love to conduct such discussions on tour. Everybody has something to contribute, whether they know it or not, and usually by the end of a tour this exchange of ideas has changed a few minds and certainly broadened our overall knowledge.
Care to comment?
Shebby Lee is a historian, writer and tour operator specializing in the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. Her early training was in the theatre and she served a tour of duty as an entertainer with the USO. She is also an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.