Back to School

I’ve been going back to school, and I feel like a kid. I took a class in American History, from Jamestown to the Civil War. The lectures were three hours long, but the course was only eight weeks. I fell behind in my on-line calculus course and have been struggling to catch up. Other activities, like blogging, had to stop for a while.

I had no interest in history when I was in high school. Now I’m fascinated. Perhaps watching this country split into kind of factions that predated the Civil War is making me realize the importance of information that I used to consider useless.

Here’s a couple of things that I learned in history class. Of course this is filtered through my instructor’s bias, and filtered again through my own bias, attention, and interpretation.

) The Indians weren’t the ecological saints that a lot of us think they were. Many of them were very wasteful. They engaged in clear-cutting, hunted more than they could use, and caused a lot of environmental damage.

) “Indian Nation” is not just a politically correct way of saying “Indian Tribe”. It’s an apt description of what, in many cases, were large, complex, unique, and functional societies.

) Champions for the little guy, like Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, were generally pro-slavery and anti-Indian. You should be careful when you choose your early American heroes.

) Although the emancipation proclamation was a purely symbolic document which didn’t really free anyone, it’s still true that Lincoln hated slavery. His arguments against slavery made him well known and popular in America.

) England had a complex and somewhat representative government. Although most people had no say in their government, there was regional representation. I always had a false image of England as a simple top-down monarchy. Representation for the colonies was difficult because intercontinental telecommunications and air travel wouldn’t appear until somewhat later. The American revolution was the result of an escalation of Britain’s attempt to maintain control of a distant region, and the needs of the colonies which could not be met by a distant government. It wasn’t really about taxes.

) The debate about how much control the federal government has over the states has been raging since the first days of the constitution. It was never very clear. Whatever your opinion is, people who are and were far more intelligent you have been disagreeing with it for over two hundred years. So don’t be so smug.