I may have alluded to this at least once before, but I'll say it again: I am only now discovering the breadth of colorful and amazing Georgia history there is to explore. As a novice historian, the past several years of my college education has been a journey in finding my spot within the field, locating the elements that pique my interest and doing the work to become "an expert" in whatever I spend the most time researching. Since declaring my major, I always knew I was more interested in world history, particularly that of the Asian continent, than in the American past. Founding fathers, Civil War, industrial revolution, world wars, OK, got it. I love world cultures and the way I saw it, I had no time for American history when there was so much outside this country to learn. But this summer, I stumbled upon a weakness of sorts within myself. I spent the first eleven years of my life in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan (1987-1998), where my fourth-grade teacher taught a paltry Michigan history; at least, it's paltry in my mind due to my minimal memory of anything that happened in Michigan history. I know Lewis and Clark passed by and the U.P. was a stronghold of iron mining (and I believe it still is...). Enough "Northern" was in me, I'm afraid, to consider Georgia history inferior and mostly see it as a compilation of idiots' doings and praise of the Confederacy. Right as my family arrived (1999), the state flag had sparked controversy and the notion of "southern pride" seemed, to me, the ramblings of the ignorant. I didn't understand Georgia's past, nor did I care much to learn it. I was from Michigan, I didn't need to know. By the time eighth grade rolled around, I was enrolled--along with every other public school eighth-grader--in Georgia History. Three years in the state had not improved my outlook on the relevance of Georgia's past. I knew the state had been burned by that nobleman General William T. Sherman, and he gave Lincoln the city of Savannah as a Christmas present (I lived in Savannah during these years, and Savannians love to tell that story); I knew John Wesley landed in this state and spread his new philosophy across it (what would become Methodism, the denomination of my upbringing). I knew that modern-day white people loved to talk about their beloved Confederate battle flag, a topic I found boring. These were the basics in my mind, and this was enough for me to declare it a waste of time. It did not help that my eighth-grade Georgia history teacher was, for some reason, thought to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. I cannot remember one ounce of information or reasoning backing this statement up, and looking back he seemed to be just a quirky guy who wore transition shades, but you know how schoolchildren are-- the rumor stuck, and I disregarded a lot of the things he said. (I feel bad about that now, and I feel worse the more I think about it. I can't think of one piece of evidence against him.) The KKK was a scary, historical image in my young head, another testament to the horrible past the South had, and another reason why it should be disregarded.
I am far beyond that, obviously, high school and college have smartened me slightly, and I do not have such a myopic view of southern history. But I must admit that I have spent three years in college avoiding American history classes; until this summer when a course I took was focused on post-Civil War and Reconstruction. As it turns out, there are endless subjects in Georgia history to examine, and a trove of colorful characters who participated in the state's amazing story.
Turns out I was dead wrong all those years. And now in a bit of a sticky spot.
I had now spent eleven years as a resident of Georgia (1998-2009). I can really no longer hold on to any idea of myself as a "northerner," since really, my memories of Michigan are of childhood and subsequent return visits. Not only that, but I have no adult perception of life in my chilly childhood state, and know none of its history. So I don't know Michigan history because I've lived in Georgia so long, but I've resisted learning about Georgia because I excused myself as "northern." And I am a... historian?
Not to mention the fact that I am going to be graduating from an American university--a Southern American university--and taking my career into the wider world, a world that expects me, as a historian, to be educated on my own region's past. If I venture into a global community of historians and start to chat about their histories but know none of my own, what good am I to the field? What kind of respect will I expect to earn with such an embarrassing lack of insight on my own state's history?
My last year in school, however, has started to build my education in this critical element. The summer class really sparked a desire to learn more about the amazing history there is to study in Georgia. My senior seminar, in which I write my senior thesis, is on Georgia History. Some of the articles we read in that class blew my uninformed little brain: Stone Mountain's history, anti-suffragist women, the Lost Cause, the state flag change of 1957--I never dreamed of the complexity and intrigue wrapped up in all the issues in the state's history, and how these elements still linger in the present. My museum studies class has taken me to several museums in the area that I'd never before visited. And my own new-found interest is encouraged by personal endeavors: reading books I pick out and visiting places I've yet to see for myself. Learning about my city, my region, my state. Eleven years later, I've made a discovery: the thirteenth colony is pretty darn cool.