The Oregon Trail
History Majors are an ever-smaller group at our university it seems. If we aren’t finishing a degree in Computer science, business, accounting or the like, there is little need to get in line at the job fairs held on campus or at the mall. In my mind, that of a Public History Research major from the 1980;s, our “learning” is s far out of date we have little chance of being noticed. Yet, as I see my youngest son, obsessed with his computer and coding, never picking up a book to read, unless it is required, I see more and more need for courses to be required in subjects that teach us not only about the future, but how we got here. Who we are, where we came from and the process of learning are just as important to a Computer major as to one of us poor “do you want fries with that’ majors we used to joke about 30 years ago.
I may be wrong, but this photograph looks like one I once saw of the Oregon Trail. It was amazing to me that over a hundred years later, the ruts from the hundreds of wagon wheels traveling somewhere west of where ever the settlers had begun were still visible on the tall grass prairies which led settlers not only to Oregon, but many other places which, today, are as crowded and crime ridden as the ones these brave souls were escaping when the trails were made.
As a historian, genealogist and general lover of the studies of past places, countries and ways of life that lead us to the unbelievable places we can go today, I find learning about these cultures and how they thrived and often ultimately died of fascinating interest.
I admit, I almost agreed with some of my older children when they called the “Humanities” courses “Department Funders” In other words, they had no real use in the modern world. But as I get older, I have changed my mind. Hear the news about Vladimir Putin taking over the Crimea reminds me quickly of the horrors of Sevastopol during the wars with Great Britain in the 1850’s. It reminds me that thinking an event, or one similar to it will never happen again, is not only foolish, it is simply wrong.
I encourage all Universities, colleges and Even Technical Colleges to require students to have some knowledge of world history so that they can have a basis on which to prevent the errors of the past from repeating themselves.
And, lastly, I would like to see today’s children understand why they have the technologies they now possess and what their ancestors endured in order for them to live their lives of luxury, or at least,lives of hope.