This year, the Human Ecology, Histories, and Literature Departments have collaborated on a series ongoing assignments. Each week students are asked to write a reflective essay that demonstrates their understanding of the themes from their coursework and effectively links these themes to their unique thoughts and experiences. Enjoy reading how our students have deeply and personally engage with essential questions, important to their course of study at The Island School… Last Weeks Prompt: How has your experience within the Literature and Histories curriculum challenged the way you understand History and the past?
"Inspired by History" by Kate Maroni
I have studied history throughout my ten years as a student, yet one historical account remains the most prominent in my mind. My grandfather, Jacques Maroni, immigrated to theUnited Statesduring World War II because of the cultural oppression that existed inFranceat the time. He and his older brother were forced to leave their home at the ages of seventeen and nineteen. They both spoke very little English, which hindered their assimilation into the American education system. Eventually my grandfather was able to earn a spot at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and worked remarkably hard in the ensuing years. My grandfather has told me his historical background many times, and each time I am left feeling thoroughly impressed and exceptionally grateful. The emotions that are evident in my grandfather’s voice as he recounts his incredible life story allow me to appreciate the hardships that he has overcome in order to give our family the life that we have today. At The Island School, I have come to understand the reason why his historical background is so compelling in my mind. My grandfather’s story includes such powerful emotions, which enable me to better understand the level of difficulty he faced. Historiographers refrain from including emotion in their work in order to eliminate bias, however the reader is left without any real sense of emotion or personal account of what happened. The reader therefore is unable to grasp anything beyond the literal context. There have been many moments throughout my Literature and Histories classes when I have felt especially inspired by history, and all of these moments have included profound emotions.
Plunkett from Omeros is a perfect example of how emotion and history are relevant to one another. Plunkett wishes that he had a son to carry on his family name, however Maud is infertile and consequently cannot provide children for Plunkett. “He set down his glass in the ring of a fine marriage. Only a son was missing” (Walcott 29). Plunkett spends a considerable amount of his time searching through textbooks, pamphlets and brochures in order to acquire a better understanding of his family history. Eventually after having visited the Military Hospital, Plunkett finds an entry from a book that causes him to become very emotional, “then he found the entry in pale lilac ink. Plunkett. One for the lacy trough. Plunkett. His veins went cold…He had come far enough to find a namesake and a son. Aetat xix. Nineteen. Midshipman…Bless my unbelief, Plunkett prayed. He would keep the namesake from Maud” (Walcott 93-94). After having found out that his ancestor the Midshipman had a son, Plunkett instantly felt as if his world had been uprooted. In contrast to the lifeless textbooks that Plunkett had previously read, this historical account that was written as the actual history was occurring proved to be much more personal and moving.
Another particularly compelling moment in Omeros is when the author Derek Walcott and his deceased father Warwick have a discussion about how to best learn from our past, and how to ensure that future generations continue to benefit from such personal historical accounts.Warwick’s ghost relays the message that further emphasizes the importance of learning about history through people with a past. “…He had seen women climb like ants up a white flower-pot, baskets of coal balanced on their torchoned heads, without touching them, up the black pyramids, each spine straight as a pole, and with a strength that never altered its rhythm” (Walcott 73).Warwick is reinforcing the fact that it is Walcott’s duty to give a voice to his enslaved ancestors who were coerced into silence. “Look, they climb, and no one knows them; they take their copper pittances, and your duty from the time you watched them from your grandmother’s house as a child wounded by their power and beauty is the chance you now have, to give those feet a voice” (Walcott 76). Walcott has the opportunity through his poetry to recount the lives of his ancestors, “they walk, you write” (Walcott 75). Emotion is a pivotal aspect of poetry; therefore Walcott has the opportunity to create an enthralling account of the lives of his oppressed ancestors. Textbooks that strictly include factual information do not generate the level of sympathy within their readers that these women deserve.
On settlement day I was fortunate enough to meet Latisha, who spoke passionately about how the most effective way to learn about history is to fully immerse yourself in it. Latisha grew up in Grand Bahamas. She felt that growing up on the most developed island in theBahamasdeprived her of the rich cultural experience that is accessible to those that live on the outer islands. “On the outer islands you have history. The people will show you ‘this is where we did this.’ Home is just what they teach you in school, in Social Studies, if you pay attention. I find myself, now that I’m here on the outer islands, taking my time and looking at history and different things. As I learn, I show and teach my children, so that’s one of the reasons I’m glad they’re on the outer island, so that they’ll learn more about their culture through experiential learning.” Latisha found that studying history through textbooks in a classroom did not excite her; therefore she did acquire a deep appreciation for her culture’s history. However, when she moved to the outer islands and delved into the local community, she found that was able to gain perspective and understanding. Those that have inhabited the land in Rock Sound have established themselves as a part of the settlement’s history; therefore they are able to recall events with the emotion and individual perspective that history textbooks lack.
In the article “No Parece,” Edward A. Delgado-Romero discusses the oppression he was subjected to because of his Latino heritage. Both of his parents spoke Spanish, however “(they) saw their accents as a source of shame, and they made certain that their children would not stand out as different.” Edward’s parents consequently drummed any trace of a Spanish accent out of him. From an early age, Edward was under the misleading impression that he should be ashamed of his culture. Because of his traumatizing experience with cultural oppression, Edward spent the following years reclaiming his Latino heritage, as well as devoting his free time to outreach and retention efforts with minority students. Edward’s personal experience with his own culture’s history proved to be very emotional, and he therefore felt compelled to become an activist and work towards preventing ethnic oppression for future generations.
History can be told from many different perspectives and can be interpreted in many different ways. I have found throughout my time at The Island School however, that the most effective way to learn about history is from people with a past, because that way you are able to perceive their emotions. These emotions then resonate with you and enable you to empathize with them. The many individuals that I have been introduced to at The Island School, both through experience and literature, have felt a powerful connection to their own historical background, whether it be good or bad, because of the emotions they have felt pertaining to specific historical events. Understanding why people have felt the way they did can elucidate why certain historical events took place, and can also motivate you to help prevent oppressive history from repeating itself.