Having been a life-long lover of history, I used to be shocked when someone told me:
“I don’t like history.”
In my mind, they had just morphed into Cruella de Ville.
Who could not like history?!?
As it turns out…plenty of people. After teaching college-level history for many, many years, I’ve come across a plethora of students who don’t care for hearing about our past. I take them as a challenge. My job being to instill my passion for history in them and have them come to appreciate (if not adore) the past.
An easy way to do that is to get them out visiting historical sites. One of my projects for a Michigan history class affords students the chance to visit and analyze places where history occurred. As they travel around the state, they uncover the stories that historical places have to tell. An old lighthouse tells of the keeper who stayed vigilant throughout the night to keep sailors safe. A centennial office building showcases modern architectural techniques of the 1920s and famous Art Deco designs of the “Modern Era.” A church which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad speaks of the peril escaping slaves experienced and the bravery with which they sought freedom. And are there more tantalizing tales than those from Prohibition Era speakeasies? Through their historic site adventures, my students are able to unravel the past and learn how seemingly mundane places are woven into the fabric of history.
Why visit historical places?
- They connect us to the past. Through visiting these places where history occurred we find our roots. History allows us to feel like we are part of something much bigger. It humbles us while inexplicably making us feel stronger, because we come from a long line of survivors, and special, because we are part of this vast chain of humanity.
- They connect us to other cultures. By seeing places from the past in other areas, I am able to relate to those people. I can see similarities between their culture and mine, as well as differences. Both of which help me feel a deeper understanding of others.
- They help us realize we aren’t alone with our situations. Throughout time immemorial, people have grappled with the same issues. A church in Italy may look different than a church in Michigan, but they express the same purpose of uniting people who are looking for a place to express their faith. I enjoy seeing the subtle variations in public buildings. In the States, our financial buildings often employ the same architectural styles as ancient Greek temples. I find the similarities between the New York Stock Exchange, US Supreme Court, and Athenian Parthenon fascinating (see below). The grandness of a building often indicates the importance it is given by a society.
- They tantalize us. Historical places let us be voyeurs into the past. They give us the chance to time travel and pull back the curtain on a different age.
- They allow us to fantasize. We can live like the rich and famous (until the palace closes for the day). Wander in the gardens of kings. Drink wine in a cafe where philosophers met. Pretend to hear the roar of the crowd at a gladiatorial game. Visiting a historic site is similar to another favorite pastime of mine…reading. It is escapism at its finest.
- Through historical interpretation we can give voice to those who no longer have one and resurrect the past. One doesn’t necessarily set out to gain an education through travel, but invariably one discovers something about a place or the people who inhabited it and can then share the stories they acquired with others. It’s a beautiful thing!I hope this blog inspired you and gave you reasons why to visit historical places. Please comment below about your favorite sights to see and places to go. Happy time traveling!
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