Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NYC in 101 Objects

When we study history in school, generally it comes to down to "so-and-so did such-and-such on this-that-or-the-other date and it lead to this other thing happening and so on and so forth."
Pretty boring. 
It's easy to think of history as just a litany of interspersed dates and facts and figures. Occasionally you'll learn about some interesting historical figure -- Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, George Washington, Winston Churchill, etc. -- but mostly they are just color commentary for the boring reportage that passes for the study of history these days.
No, history isn't just something published in book or tested in an exam. It's not a subject to suffer through. History is what forms us, it's our present as well as our past. Real history is the legacy of our ancestors, a legacy we grapple with daily, something to be either continued or reformed. And history is something that we're always creating.
Literally. Think of the IPhone. In the present day, it's a popular piece of technology that just about everyone wants and has (including yours truly). To understand modern day America, you need to understand the IPhone and how people use it, how it connects us, and what it says about American society in 2014. In years to come, when something else has come along to replace it (possibly microchips in our brains that make all computer hardware obsolete), the IPhone will be a museum piece, an artifact of another age. Heck, when I was a kid, everyone had Walkmen and VCRs -- and they're museum pieces now! 
The history of NYC has been the subject of numerous books and documentaries and movies. But that's only part of the story. Our city's history can be found in the literal things that shaped it, that its people used over the years, that tell us everything about our past. This great segment from WNYC gives us 101 objects that tell the NYC story. For example, burial beads, the sewing machine, public school door knobs, AIDS buttons. They are emblems of our history and how our city got from there to here, from the 17th century to the 21st century and beyond.

P.S. My grandfather fought in WWI, the 100th anniversary of which is being commemorated this year. He fought in the Brooklyn regiment that, along with the Tennessee regiment, was one of the first to fight in the "Great War" (although there was nothing great about it). It was commanded under the British Expeditionary Force and my grandfather was given a BEF medal that my family still has to this day. That's real history. Actually being to hold something linked to that time is powerful. And that's the best way to appreciate it.  

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