History Repeats

Well sort of. History doesn't so much repeat as it does replicate itself from time to time as it spins out a continuum of connected dots in time and space. Really. It does. Like a nice set of variations on a theme there are things that seem familiar and there are things that are clearly new and inventive. 

So if life is a series of themes and variations how can we use the events of the past to help us better understand what is happening in the world today? Well for one thing, it would be helpful if every living history guide, interpreter and docent would understand that making the past relevant to the present is the first order of business. Freeman Tilden at the age of 58 decided to reinvent the way the National Park Service was interpreting nature and history for its guests. Among other things he stated, right up front that : "Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile."

Wow. "Sterile"; in other words Antiseptic, Bland, Irrelevant and in the end meaningless or at least forgettable. I think the legendary Mr. Tilden may have a point. What matters to today's audience is less about what we think of our glorious (or inglorious) past than it is about how that past has contemporary meaning to today's guests.  

I've given hundreds of tours and talks to thousands of people this year - all about history - sometimes the incredible tales of the American Revolution and its inimitable and conflicted characters and sometimes about the challenges of rationalizing the lessons of the Civil War in light of today's sensitivity to matters of race and privilege but always, always about the ethos of the American Dream and the promise made to all peoples on this continent that we are gifted by our creator with certain unalienable rights including "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" and yet ... sometimes they just stare at me as if I am talking about some other country in a galaxy far, far away. 

Our job as storytellers is to find those patterns that repeat; the commonalities between today's audience, as diverse as they are and the history of a nation that embodies ideals never before articulated by the people. And for the people.  No matter their origins or station in life. If you find those threads and tell the stories of history embracing the craft of story you and your guests will be surprised to see that the distance between today and the past is far shorter than you thought. You see history does repeat and it's each of us who plays a starring role in that endless tale.