The Importance of History

The Camping Trip that Changed America

My husband’s job as a historical researcher frequently provides the opportunity to hear well-known historians opine on the importance of history.  The speech’s always end the same way; concern about the lack of historical knowledge among today’s youth.  The statistics support their fears, but while history is unchanging the future is not!  Think back to your favorite history teacher.  The chances are you enjoyed the class because that teacher brought history alive with stories and that’s an easy gift to share with your children.  There are many wonderful historical fiction and nonfiction titles published today for children and teens.  Gone are the days of biographies where George Washington cuts down a cherry tree!  Today, historical non-fiction is so well-written it has the ability to bring the past to life in vivid and memorable ways.  

The Camping Trip that Changed America” by Barb Rosenstock reads more like fiction than fact.  When President Theodore Roosevelt read naturalist John Muir’s book on vanishing forests, “he knew that was someone he just had to meet!”  Together they shared adventures while camping their way through what was then known as the Yosemite Wilderness.  Mordicai Gerstein’s dynamic illustrations capture Roosevelt’s liveliness and Muir’s quiet while the author’s words detail their commonalities: their love of the outdoors and their determination to save them. Thanks to this remarkable, yet little known, camping trip that brought these two unique individuals together, the number of national parks and monuments was dramatically increased.

A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis” by Matt de la Pena tells the story of how, in the 1940s, an African-American boxer went from being celebrated predominantly in black neighborhoods to being hailed as a hero by the entire country.  Louis earned his reputation by knocking out his opponents, but the first time he faced German Max Schmeling, it was Louis who wound up on the mat.  Vowing to fight back, Louis took him on again, just as rumors about German run concentration camps in Europe were swirling.  Suddenly the whole country was rooting for him and this time it was Schmeling who was knocked down, again and again, until finally the towel wais thrown and all of America, black and white, cheered together!  Accompanied by Kadir Nelson’s oil paintings this is more than just a sports story or a biography, but a gentle and moving introduction to race in America.  

The next book’s title is a doozy, “Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War: How the North Used the Telegraph, Railroads, Surveillance Balloons, Ironclads, High-Powered Weapons, and More to Win the Civil War.”  Author Thomas B. Allen presents a fascinating look into why, thanks primarily to the President himself, the Civil War is generally considered the first modern war.  Lincoln was open and receptive to innovation both on the battlefield and behind the scenes.  When General Scott refused to consider using hot-air balloons to spy on the enemy, Lincoln recognized the importance of the idea and personally escorted the aeronaut, Thaddeus Lowe, into the General’s office.  It was also Lincoln who ordered a telegraph line strung directly to the War Department.  Fans of the recent movie “Lincoln” will remember the scene where the President pays a late night visit to check for recent news.  It was an accurate scene as “hardly a day passed” that he didn’t visit the office.  There is so much popular information about Lincoln, but one of the delights of Allen’s book are the amazing insights and fun facts that are guaranteed to surprise most readers.  

This article was originally published in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.