Where History Comes Alive

It’s Spring Break so I will be visiting Teothihuacan outside Mexico City when this blog posts, so my apologies, I probably won’t be able to respond to your comments until later in the day/Monday evening. I’ll be showing my boys these amazing pyramids as they have been studying Mexico’s history in their social studies class. We will also visit the  Anthropology museum in Mexico City as well – when traveling with me no one gets to avoid history!

One of my favorite parts of research is visiting places and immersing myself in a sense of history. Some places are able to evoke the past easily – as if the past remains stored in the stone walls, cobble stones or timbers of the houses. Other places, however, feel more inaccessible. I find Teothihuacan, with its vast avenue and towering pyramids, is a place that evokes awe but is also so alien in many ways that it is hard to picture what life must have been like way back then. It’s more challenging to imagine the past here but nonetheless the echoes are still there, if you listen hard enough. Likewise, I used to find the Australian landscape much harder to ‘read’ – the aboriginal past seeming to be more elusive and the colonial overtones a little too blunt. By comparison, somewhere like London the past really is omnipresent. For me, the voices of the past are all around and it is easy to imagine the sights, smells and sounds of history.

So TKZers where has history come alive for you? What places have you visited (for research or pleasure) that have evoked the greatest sense of history?

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10 thoughts on “Where History Comes Alive

  1. Hi Clare: I love researching locations for my fiction. One of my novels takes place in Concord, MA, and I couldn’t get enough of that literary town full of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts, Thoreau. Another novel takes place on Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. The historical values not only come alive for me personally but add a reality to my storytelling. I agree when you say “the voices of the past are all around.” I like to imagine myself as one of my characters, feet planted on the soil, absorbing the views and the scents, and just listen.

  2. I’m envious of your trip, Clare! I wanted to be an archaeologist as a child (until I went on a summer dig and discovered it was hot, muddy, and physically miserable). But I love reading and watching shows about the topic. I’m currently subscribed to The Great Couses through Amazon. I recommend watching Archaeology: An Introduction To The World’s Greatest Sites, by archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer Eric Cline. He has excellent segments covering the Maya, Aztecs, and the other sites in North, Central, and South America.

    • In terms of my own experience, I loved touring Europe the summer after I’d taken an art history course. We had studied how cathedral construction techniques had evolved over the centuries, and it was wonderful being able to look at the actual buildings. I appreciated the trip so much more because I was able to understand some of the history behind it all.

  3. Where did the blue come from?

    In Mel Gibson’s epic movie, Apocalypto, the Mayan Kingdom is coming to an end, except no one realizes it. In the movie, a Mayan group of warriors headed by tough, barbaric leader, moves through the jungles searching for and capturing members of other tribes to become slaves and human sacrifices. The slaves, the women and older children, and the men, the sacrifices, are captured, subdued, and then marched to the Mayan city. (I can’t be specific as to the locations of jungle, tribes, or city as the Mayan civilization in MesoAmerica spread out through areas now known as southeastern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and the western portions of Honduras, and El Salvador.)

    In Gibson’s movie, the little tribe of which Jaguar Paw and others are members, are subdued and taken to the Mayan city, tied to huge trees, then marched over dangerous cliff-side pathways. When the captives reach the city, the women are sold as slaves, and the men are hurried to the place of human sacrifice. As the men pass through a tunnel, they are dabbed by women with a blue paint. Then the men are then taken up on the sacrificial pyramid where their hearts are cut out of their chests and then they are beheaded by a head priest and his assistants.

    It’s the blue paint that interests me. Because remains of the blue paint in real life have been found in the remains of Mayan cities in the Mesoamerican areas. The problem is, where did the blue come from? The ingredients of the blue paint have not been discovered anywhere in the areas where the Mayans lived in Mesoamerica.

    But in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, Mayan-like structures were found in north Georgia–not the nation of Georgia that straddles Europe and Asia, but the Georgia of the southeastern U.S., of Ramblin’ Wreck fame, the Georgia that the Arizona Republic newspaper thinks is in Europe and Asia.

    And in and around the Mayan-like ruins in Georgia, they have found the sources of that blue paint.

    To me, that’s important, because Georgia is the home of, among several tribes, the Creeks, my Dad’s, and my, tribe. My curiosity about those 1,100-year-old Mayan ruins has now been tweaked into full-blown interest. There MUST be many stories that can come out of the people circumstances who built those ruins. Where did they come from? Why did they leave Georgia? Did the Mayan civilization die more than once? Were the Mayans run out of Georgia? What would AncestryDNA reveal about my family? Were there Mayans in my family? Do I have cousins many times removed living in Central and South America?

    The story possibilities, even as mere background, seem to be many.

    I wonder if Mel Gibson’s available for lunch next week.

  4. I always wanted to visit Teothihuacan and also Macchu Picchu having studied the cultures in those regions, but I have to cross them off my list as health got in the way. But living in the British Isles, I got to some really great historical places – including some on the continent. Perhaps, the historic places that affected me most were the temples in India though – and some of the palaces.

  5. I visited Mexico City (and Teothihuacan) on a family vacation when I was in college – be sure to climb whatever they’ll let you climb~ 🙂

    I find battlefields (Gettysburg, Valley Forge), and old forts (San Marcos, Pulaski, Andersonville), and such (Ellis Island, Monticello, Mt. Vernon), to evoke a sense of “what happened” ~ stand and picture battles and movements.

    And there is a state park “around the corner” with the ruins is an antebellum mill town I used as a setting in a NaNo a few years ago.

    Maybe it’s the “emptiness” or the ghosts, but these unoccupied places make me consider the past more than the renovated/reused/repurposed.

  6. Having difficulty logging in from Mexico but thanks for all your comments. I love walking alongside history 🙂

  7. When I lived in Japan, there was a low mountain about a mile from my apartment. On the top of that mountain were the ruins of an old castle/fortress, built and occupied during the bloody centuries of Japan’s middle ages. There are many such places in Japan, but at this particular castle, a fabulous battle took place in 1575, after the Mori clan surrounded the Oda’s in the castle. For the defenders, the battle was hopeless, and thousands died defending their family name on those slopes before one man came to the fore. Yamanaka Shikanosuke, field commander of the mountain fortress detachment, went to visit his attackers in the night, and made them an offer. He offered his own head in exchange for the lives of his surviving men, who would sign on with the Mori family. His offer was accepted (collecting and displaying the heads of notable foes was common practice at that time). Yamanaka was the field commander, not the general. The general remained atop the mountain, and committed ritual suicide there, so as to die honorably after his terrible defeat (the general was not even military – he was a priest, called back from Kyoto to fill a temporary vacancy). I walked on that mountain many times, visiting the small, all but forgotten monument to the general’s suicide, looking for anything that might remain from the battle. Like I said, there are many such places in Japan, and this one is not particularly famous, so I was always alone. I liked it that way.

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