Not too late for those who ‘don’t know much about history’

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Many of us remember the old song in which the singer did not know much about history or algebra or a science book or the French he took, but he did know that he loved the girl of his dreams.

For those of us who think we do not know much about history or any other subject, the good news is that it is not too late for us to learn. We can be lifelong learners if we choose.

I remember an event that taught me and my classmates that we need to learn as much about history as we can and to develop a curiosity about the past, not simply things we learn in school, but lessons we learn on our own.

Our ninth-grade civics teacher took our class on a field trip to the Wilson County Courthouse where we witnessed a portion of a session of court. We saw lawyers, clerks and, of course, a judge at work.

After court was adjourned, one of the lawyers talked to our class about what we had witnessed and then asked us if we knew for whom Wilson County was named and when it was incorporated. Not a single student knew the answers to his questions.

The lawyer then told us that we need to learn as much as we can about the history of our town, county, state, country and the world. He told us that our city and county were named for Louis Wilson and that he and his friend, Joshua Barnes, were instrumental in the formation of Wilson in 1849 and Wilson County in 1855. We were amazed that our town and county went back so far and that the lawyer knew so much about our local history.

We also learned that we should start asking questions, reading and developing curiosity about the place where we live, our churches, schools and our own families.

We can take advantage of the resources available to expand our knowledge. Television documentaries and the internet these days are great sources of information about the past, and they are usually engaging and detailed. Then there are libraries and museums all around us.

One of the greatest ways to learn about the past is through talking to older people who lived through many experiences that younger people call history. Most older people would be glad to share the experiences of living through the Depression or wars or other life experiences with younger generations.

Last week, my daughter and her two sons and I visited a local cemetery where many of our ancestors were laid to rest. The boys saw the graves of their great- great-great grandparents and other relatives. One of the boys studied the spelling of his great-great-grandfather’s middle name so that he could be sure it is spelled exactly like his own middle name.

The youth group at our church is just beginning a church history project which will incorporate studying old photographs, newspaper clippings, charters and other artifacts. They will also interview people who have attended the church for a long time to gain a perspective on how the church has progressed through the years and contributed to the spiritual lives of hundreds of people through the decades.

Local schools also have their own interesting history. My mother graduated from Charles L. Coon High School in the 1930s, and she used to tell us children what she had learned about Mr. Coon and the huge contributions he made to education in Wilson County, North Carolina and our country. She also told us to study Mr. Coon’s portrait that still hung in the school when we were students there. The school, we learned, had a history that we should know about.

One good way to get your hands on some old books about past times is to peruse the stack of discarded books in libraries and schools.

Just this week I looked through a stack of old history books that were being discarded. I found a book about the Highland Clans in Scotland. The book had much information about the names of the clans and their history, dozens of drawings and photographs about the Highlands and also 60 beautiful photographs of tartans of a number of the clans. My husband and I plan to spend some time with this historical document before we set out on our trip to Scotland in April.

I also found two discarded books that I will keep in our personal library. One is a collection of essays and photographs of the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and the Prince of Wales, a slice of British history that interests me. The other consists of hundreds of photographs of Diana from the time of her engagement to Prince Charles until about two years into her marriage. This book documents Diana’s beauty, her fashion statement and her impact on the culture of her time.

We all know the tragic end of this story, but we like to relive this time in history and to think that there was a Camelot, so to speak.

Art and music history are well worth our study time, and the history of sports, movies, cars and many other topics continues to fascinate so many people.

In the scheme of things, none of us will know all the history there is to know, yet we can chip away at it and love every minute of it.

So if anyone asks you if you know much about history, you might respond in this way: “I know more than I knew last year, and I will know more next year that I do now. I am a lifelong learner.”

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life.