October is on its way out, which means November is fast approaching. When we think of November, we typically think about holidays such as Veteran's Day or Thanksgiving, but what many people don't realize is that November is also New York State History Month.
According to the State Historian Robert Weible, in 1997 the New York State legislature added Section 57.02 to the state's Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, which designated November as New York State History Month and defined the purpose of the month as a celebration of state history as well as recognizing the contributions of state and local historians. Initially, the idea of having a New York State History Month was very popular, but its popularity waned in the early 2000s.
Why did the popularity of New York State History Month decline? I believe that the popularity declined because many people don't appreciate the value and the power that history has. That is the purpose of my writing this article this evening. As a student of history and a bit of an amateur historian who had worked directly with Mr. Weible in the past, history is important to me; however, as someone studying to become a teacher and who has had experience working with teenagers in the classroom, I have seen first-hand that there are many people who think that history is boring and has no importance, but I know for a fact that that is not true.
History is important because it contributes to moral understanding. Studying the stories of individuals and situations in the past allows a student of history to test his or her own moral sense and to hone it against some of the real complexities that individuals have faced in difficult situations. This is a way that history teaches by example--this shows that others have been able to successfully work through moral dilemmas and that ordinary people can overcome hardships as well. Think about it--all of the historical figures you've learned about in school were once ordinary people.
History is important because it provides identity. Historical information shows how families, groups, institutions, and whole countries were formed and how they evolved through the years, decades, centuries, etc. Everyone has an identity, and one can learn more about who they are by exploring the histories of their families, states, countries, and other histories to further understand who they are. Like historian David C. McCullough said, "History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are."
History is important because it helps us understands people and societies. History offers a font of information about how different people and societies began, declined, and how they interacted.
There is a fundamental reason for the study of history, and that reason is that history. History can help us understand change and how the societies we live in came to be. The past causes the present, and thus affects the future. Anytime we want to know why something happened, we have to look for the factors that took shape earlier. Only through the study of history can we understand how things have changed, and we can also understand how aspects of society have endured despite change.
History is much more than a bunch of dates and people; history is the story of mankind and how our civilizations, and us as individuals, came to be. For the month of November, I encourage everyone to do something that relates to New York State History in some way--visit a museum or historical site, read a book about a historical figure from New York, go to a history lecture, watch the local news, or read a local newspaper--there is no wrong way to experience the amazing history that this state has to offer. Let's all work together to revive the interest in history in the great state of New York!