Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Tonight I was reviewing scholarship applications for the UCLA Alumni Association. One applicant who had gotten very interested in oral histories from his/her experience as a volunteer in New Orleans after the Katrina disaster began an oral history project as an extension of the material recorded in New Orleans. As I read the essay in the application, I saw a word that I had not seen before, "historiography."

I wrote it on a piece of paper so I would not forgot it before I got home and could Google it. I am touting myself as an historian as it relates to my family tree yet I did not know this word. It sounded as if it were something of which I should have some knowledge.

Well, I arrived home and after calling my husband about the status of his hospitalized-mother and checking my email messages, I Googled "historiography." I clearly need to look at this further. It is after midnight and I have a meeting tomorrow morning so further exploration will wait.

My initial view of this discipline is that it is a reaction to how some historical events are conveyed -- fact verses sensationalism, one sided view, etc.

This reminded me of how Paul Revere's ride became such a prominent part of American History because of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem. Paul Revere was but one rider. Israel Bissell was actually the most impressive rider who is virtually forgotten in US history classes taught in high school or earlier.

He rode from Watertown, MA to Philadelphia, PA. Paul Revere rode only a short distance. I saw a program on TV a number of years ago about the selling of Paul Revere. I don't recall the program but what it said made sense. If Wadsworth wanted to sell his poem, Paul Revere was a catchier sounding name than Israel Bissell. Doesn't this strike a chord with 20th century film actors like Archibald Leach, Frederick Austerlitz, Betty Perske and Alphonso D'Abruzzo? These are the actual names of Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall and Alan Alda. Looking at the times, do you think that their actual names would have been as well recognized as the made up names?

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