Sorelle Fluke: On Being Grounded To Your Roots – January 10, 2012
Where we come from and who we are is all because of the past, because of our roots. Every moment in history since the beginning of time has led up to you, here and now, in your life, reading this. We are able to know our family and personal past due to historical records kept by those interested over time. Historical societies keep records and stories alive, therefore securing our culture in the modern day, which would otherwise be forgotten. Support for your local historical society is rewarding, as it also supports you.
Historical societies are not something new in order to get a grip on the past, but have been in effect hundreds of years. Amanda Laugensen, a keeper of history, informs that “The first historical societies were established in the wake of the American Revolution and were tied to the need to memorialize and institutionalize the memory of the revolution and the making of the American nation” (Laugesen 14). These societies started collecting information and data for their records from what was happening at the time to help insure that the future would still be aware of what had happened in America, shaping us into who we are today. This built a sense of nationalism and collectiveness in the existing states, which would later expand.
After the Civil War, people started to expand Westward, carving new territories, and a notion of a new United States (Laugesen 15). “For many of these newer communities of the West, historical societies were one of the few cultural institutions and were seen as providing a means to promoting culture and “civilization” in rough-and-ready frontier communities” (Laugesen 15). Historical societies went on to help establish a sense of community and understanding of togetherness.
Today, historical societies continue this mission. They have recorded, organized, and kept safe the millions of documents of birth and death records, photographs, and stories to create an overall American memory. Between museum and historical library records, just about every insight and fact known about our past has been accumulated and put into written form Richard Brown, co-author of The Making of Memory… illustrates historical libraries often as “the storing, and ordering place of the collective memory of [a particular] nation or people(s)” (Brown 17). These play a role in securing and shaping our “historical consciousness and identity” (Laugesen 13).
Because of our collective past, our communities are able to exist and function. Although historical societies inform people of dates, facts, and stories, that is not all they are about. Another big part of what it means to be a historical society, and why we should care, is their notion of spreading knowledge in a way so it is meaningful to you, as an individual and as part of the community.
We are all part of our own history, in search of finding out where we came from and who we are. In this modern day, according to Hayden White, author or “The Historical Event,” we are always in a quest to seek group identity as to “belonging to history” and “having a history” (White 9). Few people like the idea of coming out of thin air, out of nothingness. We are naturally social beings, having others around us in order to survive and remain content. By digging into our local histories and understanding our roots, we can have a better idea of who we are as a community.
Not everyone is blessed with the sublime knowledge of life, the universe and everything. Very few of us even have a compiled genealogical book passed down to us in order to get to know our roots, yet roots seem to be very important to people. Knowing where you are grounded and keeping in touch with your roots gives you a better understanding of yourself in knowing what you are made of. We like to keep in touch with family and old friends because having them from our past is a comfort in our present and future. Security is a reassuring feeling, even better when you get that not only from your household and friendships, but also from your community.
According to the Humboldt Historical Society website, their purpose is to “further an understanding and appreciation of all peoples, places, events, and activities of Humboldt County and related areas. Toward this end, they focus on acquiring, preserving, interpreting, creating, and sharing historical information, and by educating and assisting others to do the same” (“About Us”). This is what a historical society is all about.
Locally, we have the Historical Society Office on Eighth and H streets in Eureka, as well as numerous museums in the surrounding cities within the whole of Humboldt County. Getting involved is also easier than you may think. In order to branch out and support any local historical society, you can volunteer for them, go to museums, attend fundraisers, become an annual member or subscribe to newsletters, which in Humboldt’s case, is the quarterly magazine, the Humboldt Historian. This is a premier publication that is a great way to help out revenues, as well as learn about local history for your own knowledge and to expand and share with others. Even with funds from subscribers, historical societies still struggle without help from the government.
Although governments may name historical sites as such, if that site cannot generate enough funds to keep the electricity on, grounds trimmed, and property taxes paid, the government will have no choice but to build something that would get them more money on that valuable piece of property. The Humboldt Historical Society is a non-profit organization, and therefore does not receive any government funding, unlike most people think.
Most historical societies and museums have a difficult time keeping afloat. Robert Palmrose, past president and current board member of the Humboldt County Historical Society, says “The biggest thing with most organizations is trying to find funds. You get what you can, when you can, where you can.”
In Ventura County, California, at the Stagecoach Inn Museum where I volunteered, we would barely have five tours on some weekends. I found this surprising because of how amazing was the grandeur of the grounds, inn, and schoolhouse. Nearly nobody even knew of its hidden existence within the city. To the few people who volunteered and visited, it was like another home, everyone a big family, but the rest of the community was excluded because of their unawareness.
Not a lot of people in their teenage or younger adult years volunteer, leaving most of it up to passionate older retirees and curious younger kids. This makes sense due to the fact that volunteers are not paid, and so these age groups do not have as much of a need for financial backing than most adults. Volunteering as a seventeen year old, I found myself both far above the average kid age and even further below the older adult age.
Volunteering is a great and rewarding way to get involved. Palmrose reiterates that “volunteerism is the thing that keeps them [non-profit organizations] going… [He said there is] always a need to help them out with anything that needs to be done.” Although it does not grant you a monetary opportunity, it does help out with giving you a sense that you are doing something to better your community and yourself. By teaching the local people, and tourists, you are reaching out the branches of community to incorporate everyone to be part of the same tree. Amanda Kemp, writer in the New Directions for Adults and Continuing Education journal, claims that “When [local histories are] investigated critically and with creativity, learners can work together to understand the more complete picture of their community” (Kemp 46).
This knowledge and understanding is all thanks to your roots, or ancestry, which started growing in the first place in order to expand into a collective consciousness of the area. Even if your family did not directly contribute to history or is in the “books,” you are still welcomed to be interested and curious about what has happened to make this society sustainable. Working for a museum can help to better educate and expand your knowledge, as well as give you a sense of belonging. We are all part of our community as we grow and learn together.
Every community is a tree that is grown upon layers of branches and personal connections. If the world is made up of forests of these communities, it is the roots where it all began. These roots are close links to who we are as people and where we came form. By supporting your local historical society, you can learn more about what brought you to be where you are, as well as your community.
A rewarding way to help your historical society is to simply volunteer. We are all in this community together, but many of us do not know how we even got here, or why we gathered in the first place. By finding out more about your local history, you can build a better understanding of who you are in relation to your community. Nobody grew out of thin air, so remember and appreciate your roots!
Brown, Richard Harvey and Beth Davis. “ The Making of Memory: The Politics of Archives, Libraries, and Museums in the Construction of National Consciousness.” History of the Human Sciences, 11.4 (1998): 17.
“About Us” Humboldthistory.org. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. humboldthistory.org/aboutus
Kemp, Amanda, and Marilyn McKinley Parrish. “(Re)membering: Excavating and Performing Uncommon Narratives Found in Archives and Historical Societies.” New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education, 127 (2010): 45.
Laugesen, Amanda. “Keeper of Histories: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin Library and Its Cultural Work, 1860-1910.” Libraries & Culture, 39.1 (2004): 13.
Palmrose, Robert. Telephone Interview. 16 Oct. 2011.
White, Hayden. “The Historical Event.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 19.2 (2008): 9
Sorelle Fluke is a Humboldt State University student who wrote this paper for an English class.
Contact the Humboldt County Historical Society at (707) 445-4342, humboldthistory.org. Contact the Historical Sites Society of Arcata at (707) 822-4722, arcatahistory.org.