I managed to finish my work early today and took the afternoon off. One of my articles is going to be published in (hopefully) the summer edition of Nebraska History Magazine. I really wish I could work at the archives, but there is simply no extra money for the job that I had as a work-study. After talking to my former boss today (the editor of the magazine), I learned that the position of someone who just retired would not be filled. There goes one more historian's job.
That really upset me. I mulled it over on the way home, wondering how to get more funding for state historical societies. But short of winning the lottery, I really don't have any answers. Since their budget is tied into the state budget, it's not a very good situation since the state budget is pretty darn bad. Our university had to cut jobs and programs (the Museum Studies program was one of them) and it has been absolutely awful to witness.
It bothers me that history is so often relegated to the trash bin when it comes to financing. There is always something more important to fund or invest in. Yet why should it be so? Isn't our history worth investing in? Historians are probably some of the most underpaid people in America, although don't quote me on that. I'm pretty sure that historians do not retire millionaires, though. What a shame. One of my favorite quotes is this (somewhat paraphrased): Those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it.
Let's face it. We make history every day. Yeseterday's headlines are now part of the past. In a single day, history is made. A single moment, a single hour, something significant can and does happen. Then why do we ignore the absolute necessity of the historian to preserve this history? Well, it's not ignored, but many of us certainly do not put much importance in it. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of the latter people are the ones who hold the power.
I can't begin to tell you how many people have told me how boring their high school history classes were. "Too many dates," they say. "The textbooks were dry and boring." Invariably, people might have a love for history but the dryness of the teaching methods or the textbook completely turned them off. I would love to change that. I doubt if I could teach at the high school level because I simply don't have the patience, but I would love to be able to write a textbook that did not put someone to sleep in the classroom.
I suppose I'm not expressing myself very well on this particular issue, largely because I feel drained and exhausted, ready to climb into bed even though it's only 6:30 p.m. But I feel so passionate about this subject that it's imperative I put down some of my thoughts now. I hope to return to them at a different time, one where I'm a bit more clear-headed.
My visit to the state archives this afternoon was a joy, as always. I can't tell you what it's like to be able to thumb through old photos, letters, newspapers, and personal affects. One of the most moving moments I have experienced in my historical research was when I held a Soldbuch (a bit like a passport for all German soldiers with their personal info and army info) in my hand from a German POW here in America. The infamous swastika was stamped in black on the cover. My mind flashed back to the past, and I realized that at many points, the book I was holding had been held by numerous German soldiers, Nazi and otherwise. How can you describe such an awe-inspiring moment, to literally hold a piece of history in your hands?
Yet the budget cuts invariably hit historical societies first. I wonder why people do not deem history "important" enough to save? I once talked to an archives employee about her job and she said if you're in it for the money, forget it. But you know, that's okay. If you're in it because you love history and you're passionate about preserving it, then money doesn't matter a whole lot. Unfortunately, all those expenses in life DO matter and a decent paycheck certainly doesn't hurt.
I guess I'm rambling.
Maybe I'll turn all these rambling thoughts into some kind of editorial in the future. Any little thing I can do to help save our history is worth a bit of my time.
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