On July 4th, we celebrated Independence Day. It is the day we consider our nation’s birthday, and this year was its 241st. It is actually the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, which told Britain we proclaimed ourselves to be our own country and free of their rule.
But do you know that we fought for that freedom for several more years after that 1776 declaration? It took still more years to draw up and ratify our Constitution. And George Washington did not become our first president until 1789.
Less than 25 years later, we had to fight the British yet again to retain that declared independence in what is called the War of 1812. The war earned that title because it began in 1812, but it lasted well past it. Our forefathers worked hard to build a new nation.
The history of the United States is interesting, and I think all Americans should have some knowledge of it. Does it matter if you don’t know the difference between the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Battle of Bull Run? Probably not, even though they took place during different wars and nearly 90 years apart. But we should know the wars our country has been involved in and why they were fought. And the struggles we have been through and how some of those struggles continue today.
Many people find history boring. But it depends on the way you learn it. Think about the story part of history. Don’t you love a good story? I always liked reading novels and found I could learn a bit of history from reading historical fiction novels. And sometimes that little bit made me want to learn more.
Now I write those novels. It’s a kind of writing that requires me to learn a lot more history than I ever did in school. But I love learning new things!
Being historically accurate in my books is essential. But I also believe I must show the situations I write about through the eyes and sensibilities of the people who lived back then, not through today’s long lens. Sometimes that leads to controversy, but we can’t see how far we have come unless we know where we began.
The roles of women, for example, have changed dramatically since our nation began. In the 18th century, women weren’t allowed in many public places unless accompanied by a man, and in some places not at all. Did you know that for most of the 19th century, married women were not allowed to teach school? And women did not get the right to vote until the 20th century.
Learning how far we have come makes it possible to believe we can achieve so much more. We can learn from our mistakes and benefit from the things we did right. But first we need to learn a little history.