Writing History: It’s About Real People

Timeless_BooksMy disclaimer here is that I am not a “historian.”  I haven’t got any fancy letters behind my name.  I don’t teach history in the university.  I’m just a person who loves a good story.  And when you can find good stories within your own heritage, so much the better.

You know the old saying about a people who doesn’t know it’s history (heritage) is doomed to make the mistakes of its past.  The opposite is true, I believe, as well.  Inspiration from our past gives us courage and boldness to not let the sacrifices of our forebears go to waste.

And so my mission is to tell the stories of the people who took part in the events of April 19th, 1775.

All that to share this bit of a book I am reading.  The book is:   History of the town of Lexington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from its first settlement to 1868, with a genealogical register of Lexington families by Charles Hudson (1868).  It’s an amazing book that not only tells the story of April 19th, but also gives us background information and the genealogy of the residents of Lexington.  It’s long – over 700 pages – but Hudson gave us a wonderful gift in this book.

Here’s what Hudson says about making history come alive:

History, to be instructive, must not only narrate events, but state the causes which produced them. Our stock of wisdom is not materially increased by being told that an event transpired; but when we are made acquainted with the causes which brought it about, we have acquired valuable information ; and, from this knowledge of the past, we can reason with tolerable certainty to the future.

History, therefore, is valuable very much as it presents the manners and customs of the people, the spirit of the age, the principles which prevailed, and the antecedents of events. The nearer the historian comes to the people, the source of all power, the more likely he will be to give us the true philosophy of history. Town histories, which are in demand at this day, are valuable for this very reason. They treat of events comparatively unimportant ; but in gleaning these minute facts, the writer comes near the actors, and walks, as it were, in the midst of society in the age in which the incidents occurred ; and so imbibes their sentiments, and becomes familiar with the character of the people, the motives and springs of action which were in play, and the genius of the age of which he writes.

Stick_FiguresIt really is, then, about people.  About Sam and his brother Abel, about Lydia and her brother Nathaniel and the family clock shop, about Anna and Will Munroe who ran a tavern, about the Reverend Clarke and his passion for liberty.  It’s about getting close enough to the people that they are no longer just stick figures of history but living, breathing individuals with hopes and dreams and fears and love.

And I continue to hope that I can do them justice.