Mysteries of History, Part Two: The Americas

October 5, 2020 at 1:58 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

From what I can tell from Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s Goodreads biography and résumé, the man is half journalist and half historian. Perhaps, that’s why I enjoyed his writing. He’s perhaps a better journalist than any writing for the papers these days (always pointing out his own biases rather than writing opinion pieces as fact) and keeps his research assignments to the point instead of meandering in and out of his feelings (which I’ve noticed modern-day scholars doing a lot of lately). I could be wrong about him as a whole, he has a rather lengthy list of books and I have only read two of them. But what I have read, I have loved.

The Americas: A Hemispheric History has an average star rating of 3.25 on Goodreads. I gave it 5 stars. Most of the complaints seem to be that he’s not a specialist in his field and wrote too general a book––which I found incredible that he took so much history and covered it so well in two hundred pages––or, that he used words and language people didn’t understand (apparently, if you’re a journalist, you’re doomed to two syllable words forever?). The book did tackle a very broad scope of history and condensed it to a cozy mystery length, but the fact that he did it without missing major broad strokes, still telling the stories of the North and South Americas without skipping things your average high school student should know about this hemisphere but rarely does… I found it impressive.

By no stretch of the imagination is The Americas an end all be all. It is a jumping off point for people who love to learn. It’s a book that identifies all the major players textbooks are required to mention, and a few they fail to, during the times of exploration and conquest. He poses a few philosophical questions about viewpoints so you know when there is a conflict of perspective so you can go forth and research from there. There are many things Fernández-Armesto says that I don’t entirely agree with, but I liked that he made his biases clear and actually referred to them as biases. I would much rather read differing viewpoints and discuss topics outside of an echo chamber than not, but I also greatly appreciate when people are able to step back and say, this is my bias rather than infer that anything coming from their mouth (or pen) is a universal truth simply because that’s how they feel.

For instance, for a historian, Fernández-Armesto seemed to articulate a very laid back view of how all history is just a matter of perspective, not fact. This made for great storytelling, as he presents all sides of a situation, but as a Christian and self-taught scholar, I do believe in the existence of universal truths. I believe modern society as a misguided view on which things are universal truths/ facts and which are not due to the hot button phrase “my truth.” I tell my kiddo, having empathy for someone’s perspective, understanding where they are coming from and how they got the ideas they have, does not make their ideas correct. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, and those who do are doomed to watch everyone else repeat it, but I’d still rather go through the world with my eyes wide opened. I still want to go through the world with an ear that hears.

Maybe that’s why I find Fernández-Armesto’s writing style approachable and easy, when others have not. He doesn’t say all the politically correct things. He doesn’t perpetuate the required narrative, but shares the facts he has collected along with his own ideas (and is very clear about what are ideas). I pick his books up when I’m starting an in-depth study as an armchair book to whet my appetite for the topic. I’d recommend this particular one as a pre-requisite title before diving into source documents. I ordered a couple books he cited as I was reading, and even more as I read his bibliographical essay at the end of the book. I love that style of works cited. Is it a professional format used by scholars? No. Is it fantastic for a people in their homes wanting to know what books the author read to come to the conclusions he did? Yes. And honestly, how often do you get a chance to read someone’s bibliography for pleasure?

I’m excited, as always, to know more today than I did yesterday… and more tomorrow than today. I’m excited, as always, to find out all the things I don’t know, and learn them––only, of course, to find I don’t know even more things. I think this is why I “eat history for breakfast,” as a friend of mine once said, because I’m a detective always on the hunt for information, so I can understand the world God made a little better.

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Houston Pow Wow 2014

November 17, 2014 at 12:11 am (Education, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Already in the mere four years I’ve been a homeschool mom, with my child not even “school age,” homeschooling in general has proven to be as much an education for me as it is for her.  When you homeschool, field trips feel imperative.  Not only do you want your kid to interact in the world, but even the most extreme homebody, if not an agoraphobe, gets a touch of cabin fever now and again.

Pow Wow 2012 017In 2012, we discovered that Houston has an annual Pow Wow and attended.  I documented that trip here. The kiddo loved it. We studied everything a two year old could “study” about Native Americans at that time and watched a lot of Pocahontas after the event. The culture, the dancing, the drums, the music, the food, I tried to dip my very pasty child in the whole experience. She came away desperately wanting an out fit just like the girl’s she took a picture with in my previous blog post (see left).

Life happened and we missed the 2013 gathering, though we do intend to attend every year.

Grant ForemanThis year, though kiddo didn’t do much in the way of pre- Pow Wow “research,” I felt the need to grab a book. On my lunch breaks I’ve been perusing The Five Civilized Tribes. I was most interested in the segment on the Choctaw since that is the tribe our rumored ancestor was supposed to have been. (I’m convinced everyone claims a tie to the Native Americans, I’m not convinced everyone has one… I’m not convinced I even have one. But from a geographical standpoint, Choctaw makes good sense.)

I’m not done reading, so a full review cannot commence.  Currently, I’ve read through the Choctaw segment and now am knee deep in the Creeks.  The book, however, is thorough and enjoyable though – as the Christian Science Monitor reported – “pure history, sober, and fully documented.”  One would assume that it would read dry, but it’s not.  Sober and dry should not be used interchangeably when speaking of history, but often it is.  Especially when dealing with the history of the Native American Indian tribes.  Their cultures are too colorful and their history too rich to ever be considered dry.

My favorite bit about the Choctaw is how thoroughly devoted to educating their children they were.  Building school houses and hiring teachers was a huge deal for them.  They built educational requests into their treaties.  Although I don’t agree with institutionalizing, I do find it interesting how much they wanted to learn about those infiltrating their land.  Some would say that it was an effort to assimilate, but I don’t think so.  I think it was more of an effort to understand.  Understanding and knowledge is important to me, though, so perhaps that is always how I will interpret those sorts of actions.

P1000571We don’t speak with the competitors at the Pow Wows much.  I’d like to know what tribes they are affiliated with, who their ancestors are, whether they live next door or on a reservation.  I’d like to talk to them all, interview them all, watch them all more closely.  But they are there for a competition and seem to be far more in the public eye than what could possibly be comfortable.  Instead we politely nod, smile, purchase raffle tickets for Indian Blankets, donate money to musicians, and try not to take too many invasive pictures of the dancers.  Instead, my child makes friends with their children for the day and blows bubbles, and desperately contains herself from touching their bead work and feathers, lest a fiercely intense father of a playmate scowl at all his hard work being undone.

The event is beautiful.  It’s all so beautiful.

Today, however, it was rainy and cold.  The Pow Wow had to be moved from the arena to a pavilion.  The show must go on, though, rain or shine, and despite the cold and the wet, they danced, and they were brilliant and kind.  Kind – even when my daughter said quite boldly during their prayer time, “But Indians DON’T PRAY!”  I promise I didn’t teach her that.  I popped her little butt and said, “Everyone prays, now bow your head.”

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When We’re Not Reading – Pow Wow Adventures!

November 11, 2012 at 1:13 am (Education, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Today we went to Trader’s Village where we attended the 23rd Annual Texas Championship Native American Pow Wow. Singing, dancing, bright colors, people, and corn in a cup… what more could a girl want?

So many people were gathered to honor Native American Indian culture today, and to dance for a $15,000 prize. The young man featured above picture was dressed to the nines and dancing his heart out when the drums were going. The entire competition was pretty awesome.

There were a few times Kiddo was moving and grooving and clapping to the beat. And every time we took a break from sitting in the stands, we were able to get pictures with some of the friendly competitors.

Books are wonderful sources for information, but when it comes down to it I want Kiddo to go out into the world and experience first hand what she reads about in books. In honor of our adventure today, we’re reading Pocahontas: Princess of the River Tribes.

I definitely plan to take her to this event every year, as it is only $3 to park and free to attend.

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My *Sometimes* Weekly Low Down on Kids…

August 29, 2012 at 11:20 pm (Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

…Books…

An oldie but a goodie, kiddo picked up my old, ratty copy of Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman and asked me to read it to her this week.  She;s been carrying it around a lot, along with Wacky Wednesday. I think she really likes the long, thin shape of the beginner books, they seem more like grown up books.

Are You My Mother? is fabulous for its repetition of the names of the animals.  Two in October, she loves repeating nouns and discovering what things are called.  As the little bird searches for his mother (and kiddo, startled says “Mommy? Where’d she go?” as we turn each page), he comes across a hen, a cow, and other animals.  I’m very partial to the illustration of the dog featured on the front cover.

…Activities…

A great way to entertain a tactile child learning to count is to take a Tupperware container of dried beans and hand them a small bowl.  They’ll spend a solid thirty minutes sorting and resorting the beans from container to container, pouring, touching, and lining them up in rows.  If you have time to sit with them, its easy to go through their numbers and show them how to count the beans.  Its great fun, and easy to clean up any mess with a broom or a handy household dog.

Also, in our house, we love to dance.  I got a Ceremonial and War Dance cd from Half Price Books, and kiddo gets all tribal in my living room for about ten minutes at a time.  Its pretty awesome to watch and I’d like to think that I’m teaching my daughter to appreciate culture.

That’s it for this week.  Tune in next week and I may have some more Weekly Low Downs on Kids somethings to share.

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