Historical Perspectives

July 17, 2020

I was born in Boston and raised in New England. I attended an elite, all-girls, private school in New England, which was established in 1854 with the mission of turning out highly educated, capable young ladies, even before college was an option for all. So by the time I got there in the 1960s and 70s, female empowerment was steeped in the hallways. So were the ideals of a rigorous, humanities-based education. Through a curriculum rich in history, literature, writing, and the arts, I learned so much about our world.

I learned, for example, that the history of our country started in the early 1600s with the pilgrims from England and Holland who were seeking a better place to build their lives. I learned that in 1607 the colony of Jamestown was established, and not long after that in 1620, the Plymouth Colony. I learned that over the next hundred and fifty years or so, more and more settlers made the journey from England and established colonies up and down the east coast. As those colonies grew, they began to feel that England no longer understood or cared about their needs, so they signed the Declaration of Independence and asked General Washington to lead their Continental Army in the subsequent war. When the dust settled and the colonists had won, the United States was born.

While my young-self did understand that all such historical events were steeped in complexity and layers of understanding, this was the story of the founding of our country that stayed with me.

I was in my thirties when my husband got transferred to Florida and we relocated south. My first job in Florida was a 4th Grade Teacher. As you may know, the Social Studies curriculum for 4th Graders is usually the history of the State in which they live. Admittedly, I knew nothing about Florida History, so I realized I had better remedy that, and began to read everything I could get my hands on about Florida history. It did not take long for me to be hooked. I fell deeply in love with my new home state. It has such a rich and diverse history. The native tribes; the architecture; the wildlife and ecosystems. I discovered that Florida is a complex and wonderful place. And in my journey of discovery, I started reading about this place called St. Augustine, which was established in Sept. of 1565 as a Spanish settlement and has been the oldest, continuously occupied European settlement in what is now the United States.

You can imagine my surprise as I discovered this! 1565 is well before 1607 and 1620. How did I not know this? I was flabbergasted.

This became a moment of insight for me as I realized that our geography, our sense of place, no matter how hard we try for it not to, impacts our perspective and how we view events and the world. Almost as if we were literally standing in our geographic location, our understanding of historical events is viewed through the prism of where we are located. It also clarified for me the importance of acknowledging the multiple perspectives that are always present in events and issues.

This painting was selected as a visual representation of my Humanities Moment because it captures the landing at St. Augustine. Pedro Menendez de Avilez is the man kneeling in the painting and he led the voyage from Spain to settle Florida. When he landed, it was Sept. 15th, so he named the place they landed and their settlement after St Augustin. By Stanley Meltzoff, from National Geographic and dated February 1966, this painting is a representation of what the artist believed the landing party to be. Pedro Menendez is receiving the blessing of the priest who accompanied the voyagers, while the Spanish soldiers and the Natives looked on. While I do not know the historical accuracy of this painting as it related to the actual events of 1565, for me, the painting represents my new understanding that history is much more complex than simply learning about names, dates, and events. My personal discovery of St. Augustine and the history of this magical place, has influenced my life in so many profound ways.

Telling the stories of those in the past, has become a vocation of sorts. In addition to being an educator, I have also become an author of middle grades, historical fiction novels. And in that role, I seek to tell the stories of those who are most often overlooked as we look back. To tell the stories of not only Pedro Menendez de Avilez, but of the others who are standing peripherally on the edges- yet who also impacted, and were impacted by, historical events.