I chatted with Wendy Knox, founder and artistic director of Frank Theatre, last week during a conference about creating archives for theaters. She said she wondered if anybody would care about the Frank Theatre archives years from now. Her comment struck me as quite humble, and my initial reaction was to say that maybe she needed to wait another 10 to 20 years.
But that’s not necessarily true. Lots of theaters that were around for a lot less time are historically significant. The work Frank Theater does is already significant, especially because much of their work is in response to political issues. It seems to me that artists’ responses to our times give a lot of insight.
Our conversation made me think about history-making in general. Do people always know when they are a part of something that years from now people will write books about? Or is it usually not until years and years later that people realize the historical value of a particular incident or group?
I suspect that while certainly there are moments that do seem like they are part of history at the time, there are other times where people are simply living their lives, and it’s only generations later that others look back and say that was an important part of history.
A written history is one person’s version of the story. Other people’s versions of the story are also history, even if they don’t make it into official history books.
Editor’s note: See the discussion of the history of Coldwater Spring in today’s Daily Planet for an example of the way history is made, and voices heard or ignored — New park opens at Coldwater Spring near Mississippi River; Coldwater: the new history; Free Speech Zone | Coldwater Springs – White History Only.
History exists in old scraps of paper, old memos, letters, photographs, and advertisements. Newspaper articles are both a reporter’s view of recent history and historical document, in and of themselves, indicative of a time and place and world view.
History is what happened, and it’s also what someone believed was happening, or what they told themselves later had happened, or what came to be believed after years and years of re-telling the story in living rooms, kitchens, and automobiles.
History includes an event that you won’t admit to anyone, because at the time it seems so important. Then age creeps up on you and you realize it doesn’t matter any more and that maybe, just maybe, your story of what really happened could help others understand and possibly learn from past mistakes.
History is written by the ones who win — the ones with the money and resources and connections and tools for communication. But other stories, the stories told and retold by those without money and connections, sometimes survive as oral history and sometimes get discovered, uncovered, and written into the record as additional or alternative versions of history.
Have you ever felt you were a part of something that people would remember years to come? Have you ever remembered something differently than the general consensus?