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The former Daily Statesman is now The Dexter Statesman and currently does not have an operating website.

Facts, Myths, and American History

Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2012, at 10:40 AM

"History is but fables agreed upon." This statement, attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, sets an ominous tone for the serious study of history... if it's true.

Looking through American history it takes very little effort to provide evidence that Napoleon was, at least, partially correct. The discovery of America, Jamestown, the pilgrims and Plymouth colony, the American Revolution, and the War for Independence are all examples of America's foundational events that have been corrupted by myth.

I have little intention of addressing errors in historical accuracy, which number somewhere in the neighborhood of infinity. Mistakes are just that, mistakes. Although one recent study alarmingly found 249 factual errors in just four high school history books, an issue that needs addressed, I want this column to dig deeper.

Myths and legends can be historical accounts that have been created and crafted with an intended purpose. They may also be embellishments of factual events that simply took on a life of their own. Either way, myths and legends have woven their way into the fabric of our nation's history and have become commonly accepted facts.

Some readers will be surprised, shocked, dismayed, or possibly offended when we learn factual truths about the history of our great nation. My endeavor is to be nothing more than a messenger. All sources of information will be available to be reviewed and verified by anyone who is willing. This may be as a direct reference in the article or on my North Stoddard Countian blog.

America's history provides fascination and awe at nearly every turn. The myths and legends have only put a dramatic mask on the true wonder of our nation and how it came into being.

As a graduate student, I had the privilege of teaching the course, American History to 1877. Curious about the knowledge of my students, I gave a quiz the first day of class: List the original thirteen colonies. The class of 35 recent high school graduates could name fewer than five on average. Some of the answers included France, England, Mexico, and Hawaii.

Here's a quiz for you. Without looking at a map, atlas, encyclopedia, or the internet, how many of the original thirteen colonies can you name? Does your number surprise or disappoint you? Don't be dismayed if you don't think you did very well. Most of us don't.

To be honest, there is little pleasure in memorizing a list of names for the purpose of knowing them. The fascination is in the details. What colony was started as an alternative to debtor's prison? What had Roger Williams done that resulted in his banishment from Massachusetts Colony and what colony did he later found as a result? Why did the Province of Carolina eventually become two separate colonies? Each colony has a unique foundation upon which it was built. Understanding those foundations will give you a new insight into the enormous complexity of uniting the thirteen colonies under a single central government.

I also want to take this opportunity to encourage you to be part of history. Families came into existence long before nations or countries and your family has a history that deserves to be preserved. Do not be afraid, it's not difficult. There are a lot of simple things you can do.

It is an extremely rare family that doesn't have pictures of people they can't identify. Make sure that you identify as many people as possible in the pictures you have. Try to record the event and approximate date the picture was taken.

Grab an ink pen or a computer and start writing. Don't feel as if what you write has to be historically significant or a major event. It's the little things that your family members want to hold onto. It's not as important that you bought a brand new station wagon in 1974 as it is that you forgot what number you were on after 83 verses of "99 Bottles" and had to start over again while on that trip to your family reunion.

I strongly encourage the use of a digital voice recorder or tape recorder. It's the easiest way to record your memories; all you have to do is talk. Interview your parents or grandparents about their memories. In the years to come you'll appreciate the fact that you can press play, listen to the stories, and hear a voice that warms your heart and brings you to tears.

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As a lover of American history, I look forward to your perspective and expertise. Welcome to the blogosphere!

-- Posted by swift on Wed, Sep 5, 2012, at 3:34 PM

Mike, welcome to the blogosphere!

-- Posted by Madeline1 on Wed, Sep 5, 2012, at 12:46 PM

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Facts, Myths, and American History
Mike Shirrell
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I have been happily married to Amy for twelve years and am the proud father of Elizabeth and Noah. I majored in history and minored in political science at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, KS, home of the 2011 NCAA Division II Football National Champion Pittsburg State Gorillas. I was privileged to be selected to teach at Pittsburg State while in graduate school and completed my Master of Arts in History in 2010 with Graduate Deans Academic Honors.
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