In January, the month named after Janus, the Roman god whose two faces look toward the past and the future, let’s talk history.
I have always admired this explanation of the purpose of history, from Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You by David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty:
Basically, historical questions seek answers which will help fulfill three purposes: description of the past, measurement of change over time, analysis of cause and consequence.
Looking back to auspicious beginnings – of Indiana Statehood in 1816, of the new United States of America in 1776 – historians can tell us about the movers and shakers of those periods in our history. They can point out those who wrought changes in our political system, be they presidents, Supreme Court justices or other notables. They can speculate on who was most important in causing our society to evolve.
Historians can also tell us about the people who lived through those times, how their lives changed in even the few decades of one person’s span of years. They can relate the factors that caused our forebears to move from one place to the other, to take up jobs in one industry or the other, to vote for one party or the other.
A wonderful example of all these historical facets can be found in James H. Madison’s latest book, Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana. His rich description of the pioneer era and how rapidly it changed before and after the Civil War, along with the causes and consequences that affected each of Indiana’s populations, perfectly illustrates what history can bring to light.
Ted Frantz, director of the Institute for Civic Leadership & Mayoral Archives and professor of history at University of Indianapolis, recently wrote that history should be seen as a process and a line of inquiry. The inquiry is what I find fascinating about history. Posing a historical question and then seeking to answer it is a method, an enterprise, a discipline and a delightful puzzle, always valuable and endlessly captivating.
This blog is part of a blog series, All Good Things. The series, written by Nancy Conner, will run throughout the year to reflect on topics that have been central to our work at Indiana Humanities.