Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Primer On My Self-Education As A Historian

I have been reading history books nearly all my life, and before I could read history books written for adults, I discussed the history of the world with my father when we would drive to and from his hardware store.

At the age of 23, I read my first book on Jewish history.  It was not the best book ever written about Jewish history, but as a survey book it was fine.  The title of that book is Jews, God and History by Max I. Dimont. I, like many of my contemporaries that went to Hebrew school and grew up in a conservative to orthodox Jewish home, knew our Bible, its stories and even the Jewish holidays that were not in the Bible such as Purim.  We knew a lot and yet we did not know a lot too. After finishing this survey book, as I call it, I decided to look for and find other books that covered Jewish history in more detail. Naturally, I found several, and, over the years, I have continued to find books dealing with various aspects of Jewish history. The Holocaust has had several books written about it, and the lives of survivors.  Some of these books just fell into my hands by accident, and others were given to me as a gift from friends, some that were not even Jewish.

It occurred to me in the early 1970s as I was riding the bus home from work that for someone that had a degree in American history and a year of graduate school in European history, I knew very little about black history, or , for that matter Native American history.  I decided I would do something about that and started reading books by African-American writers. And, around that time I found the great book about Native American history - Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee:An Indian History of The American West by Dee Brown.

Now that I am retired, and I don't have to get up in the morning at 5:50 to go to work, I can lay in bed and read. Recently, my interest in history has brought me back to a book I had bought a while ago at one of those book sales where they are just about giving away books.  ARC OF JUSTICE:  A Saga Of Race, Civil Rights, And Murder In The Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle has again reintroduced me to black history in the United States.  This book should be on the reading list for every high school senior in America!  Americans should know their social and intellectual history as well as their political history to be truly educated about what happened in the United States.

It just so happens that on my recent trip to Kettering, Ohio and the 2nd & Charles bookstore, I would find a book about W.E.B. Du Bois, the first African-American to receive his Doctorate (Ph.D.) from Harvard University. I look forward to following up the ARC OF JUSTICE, which mentions Dr. Du Bois with the book W.E.B. Du Bois: Voice of the Black Protest Movement by Elliott Rudwick.  On that same trip, I found another book dealing with the Holocaust - IBM And The Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany And America's Most Powerful Corporation by Edwin Black.

Educating oneself about ones history can hardly be left to public education at either the high school or college level of the 1950s and 1960s. The education I received back then was just the beginning, a survey history and very incomplete. For those that think history of the world started in the year 2000, I would suggest that they drop back and pick up the story a few hundred years back. Perhaps then they will understand what took place and why their world is the way it is. History is much more than a collection of dates, it is the story of the lives of real people and their struggles to live free, with their civil rights and dignity.

1 comment:

Butch said...

Good post Fred. This is what I like about getting older too, time to take in information. Wish I had read more when I was younger.