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Appreciating Your Own History

Edit to add; Running out of things to do at work and going through some old posts, thought I'd try reviving this one since we may be need to appreciate home for awhile...

I suspect most of us took some form of History about our own country while in school, but as kids we probably didn't pay as much attention as we should have, and over the years we've forgotten a lot of it. I'd been out of High School for 36 years when my wife and I visited the Fashion Museum in Bath and I came across a Beaver Pelt Top Hat. I realized that pelt was probably from a Canadian beaver. When Europeans came to explore Canada 400 years ago, beaver pelts were sent back and became a fashion sensation which resulted in further exploration deeper into Canada (or what was to become Canada). You could say that in a way, Canada was founded by the fashion industry. This started me reading more about Canada's history, from the fur trade, right up to where my Canadian roots began with the expansion of the West by English, and Scottish immigrants.

So I'm curious, has travel to international destinations made you appreciate and want to research your own country's history a little bit more?

Posted by
4349 posts

I am a retire lawyer with my undergraduate degree in History and Political Science. I have read quite a lot of history and when I travel, I try to enhance my understanding of a nation's history and culture. Yes, understanding my own country's history (USA) has been enhance by my travel within the USA and foreign countries.

The UK is one of my favorite countries and much of its history is tied to US history. Also, nearly all my ancestors came from the England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. My wife and I did a four week drive tour of S. Wales and England in 2017 and we visited some key places where my ancestors came from. We visited the small village in southwest Wales where my surname paternal ancestors originated. They left for American in 1716. Apparently, they were Baptists that resented having to tithe to the Church of England. It is Ironic that I grew up an Episcopalian.

I try to learn about every country's history. Did a great three week trip to China in 2012 and did a lot of reading of its history. I am still trying to catch up in that area, but understanding the history helps you to understand the culture and current situation there.

Posted by
1113 posts

Hi Allen: I have gone to the UK several times during my lifetime probably for no other reason than I speak English. I had no origin family history, excepts for snippets. Probably because most of my family came to the far West over a hundred years ago to farm and trade goods. I think that the ones who arrived here in Washington Territory just wanted a fresh start and didn't dwell on the past. I did Ancestry DNA and discovered I was 59% English. Most of my Ancestors came to North America in the Great Migration of the 1600s when over 20,000 English immigrants came to the East Coast. Most of mine arrived in Massachusetts at Plymouth and Hingham. And yes I am supposedly related to a few that came over on "that" boat; although one couple died within the year. However, I became more interested in the Mariners that delivered these passengers that were also my ancestors and at least could make a living hauling more passengers back and forth. Some families had dozens of children; often cousins would marry. A few were killed in King Philips War. One was accused as a Salem Witch. In the Revolutionary War one was a Loyalist who was hung by the "Patriots". By coincidence, while on my trips to the UK I happen to have visited many of the home counties of my English ancestors, like the salmon returning home.

Posted by
3120 posts

Last year I was in Halifax and stumbled across the Cunard statue so had to read about the Canadian connection, as I was to be in Southampton the following month for a Cunard cruise. I also visited the Immigration Museum at Pier21 and then the Maritime Museum in Southampton for two sides of a similar coin. Running across European city names that I know from 'home' often leads to searches of connections. I certainly jsve stumbled upon connections not previously considered that lead to further research.
@Allen, for some reason, a favourite read in my early teens was Thomas B. Costain's The White and The Gold(1954) which covers the French period of Canadian history.....in case you are interested in that period.

Posted by
11711 posts

This is a great topic, Allan, and I thank you for posting. I do not have anything to add just now as I am in Japan and about to head to dinner, but I will consider the question later. And watch for other contributions.

Posted by
2353 posts

Going to Sicily and hearing older people talk about how some of the small towns were empty because so many people emigrated 100 years ago. Many went to the US - including my ancestors. I had recently been to Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum in NY, and seeing where people came from and where they went was very interesting.

Pretty much anything in Spain about the conquistadors/exploring the Americas is also interesting. Seeing the European context of why this happened.

Posted by
4149 posts

2019 is the Year of Return in Ghana - a time when people affected by the African diaspora come together in Ghana to remember their roots. I lived in Ghana for many years. I visited the slaving forts many, many times. Unfortunately, I did not need to try too hard to understand the role that the Europeans and the US had in that history.

https://visitghana.com/events/year-of-return-ghana-2019/

Posted by
343 posts

Traveling to awesome foreign destinations definitely makes me more interested in visiting tourist spots close to home that I have missed. I especially appreciate having family or friends visit so we can go to some of these together - places like the homes of Herman Melville, Edith Wharton and Emily Dickinson. I don't know if you call that history, but it's definitely national/regional/local culture.

Posted by
865 posts

I am a teacher, although not of history. I firmly believe the only way to teach history, and geography, is through travel. Other people’s stories are just words unless you can see the context in which they happened. This is one of the reasons that I want to travel to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan so that I can make many of the stories in the Bible come alive.

Posted by
1343 posts

@Allen, for some reason, a favourite read in my early teens was Thomas
B. Costain's The White and The Gold(1954) which covers the French
period of Canadian history.....in case you are interested in that
period.

Thanks Maria, I'll have to look it up. As an Albertan, we're not too pleased with the Quebec Government's attitude right now but yes, the French history is of interest as well. A few years ago, my wife and I were in Quebec City, prior to the trip I'd read a biography about Wolfe and Montcalm leading up to the battle at the Plains of Abraham. The book described a church that Montcalm was taken after he was shot and where he died. We had a private guide walking us through Quebec City and he took us to that church and just nonchalantly mentioned that Montcalm died here and showed us the exact spot where he had died. It was such a cool moment for me because that battle was so significant in Canadian history and right where I was standing, a major figure in Canadian history had died.

Posted by
1667 posts

Good subject Allan.

I'm fortunate to know the circumstances of my ancestor's immigration to the colonies for some and the US for others.

Visiting Scotland made me come back and do more research on how my clan got here. I'm also descended from the Salzburgers who fled religious persecution to sail with Oglethorpe to the colony of Georgia. I'm proud to find out they were opposed to the plantation system and would come only if Georgia was slave free, which it was at the time they arrived. They were also adamant that Georgia be a strictly secular colony, with clear separation of church and state.

Posted by
2012 posts

Ancestor touring is a part of most of our trips. My mom's side is ethnic Germans from now-Serbia. So we have been to the Balkans many times, and will go back. Also Buda-Pest is a part, and again we visit that great city over and over. We also have friends in both Germany and France, and visit them upon occasion.

Posted by
263 posts

As is well known Sydney started as a British penal colony. I found an unexpected connection to this when I visited Norwich Castle.

The castle has been a jail during the 18th and 19th centuries, and there was a large section devoted to its history as a jail. Plenty of the worst offenders got executed, but there were also exhibits about inmates who got transported to Australia. There were even exhibits about their Australian descendants and in one case about them visiting Norwich. I found the display both fascinating and moving.

Posted by
5896 posts

Ted, if for you are ever in London you should visit the Morpeth Arms pub next to the Tate Britain Art Gallery. The Gallery is built on the site of the Millbank prison where many people were held prior to being shipped to Australia.
The Morpeth Arms was built on top of some of the holding cells which are apparently very spooky indeed. There is a video link in the bar where you can look out for odd goings on. Mudlarkers, people who trawl the river for historical artefacts, often find things along this stretch of the river that were apparently dropped by prisoners before they sailed.

Posted by
263 posts

Thanks for that information Emma. That is another place I should visit next time I am in London. Last time I was there I saw a bust of Captain Arthur Phillip not far from St Paul's Cathedral. He was the first governor of New South Wales and founder of Sydney and according to the inscription under the bust, he was born in London. It is fascinating to see the connections.

Posted by
1425 posts

has travel to international destinations made you appreciate and want
to research your own country's history a little bit more?

I am interested in history and as German when you travel in Europe you will find so much things to dive into. Just three examples from visiting Norway.

  • Bergen has a world culture heritage short called "Bryggen" but it was originally "Tyske Bryggen" from the times of mighty Hansa trade league.
  • Finnmark: At the end of WWII German soldiers really burned down ("verbrannte Erde") the northern most state of Norway. Also this operation was judged as war crime.
  • Town of Alesund was completely rebuilt after bruning down 1904. German Emperor Wilhelm II was helping with ships as contempopary housing options and with a lot of money. Still today Alesund has a remembering on this.

So, three examples of German history with visiting one country only.

Also interesting was for me to visit the German belt region in Texas because they made their own way of being German - not meant in any negative way because that is typical German;we have a lot of cultures overlayed in centuries, imported, exported, ... So, it is often discussed what is typical German :-)

Living in Berlin means to face parts of own country's history every day. One of my referred bakeries is right across East Side Gallery which is former part of Berlin Wall (Cold War frontline).

Posted by
1909 posts

As a Spaniard and Catalan, I've been pleasantly surprised to see how much of our history of exploration (1500-1800s) is still visible throughout the South-West USA and beyond, I'm also very delighted to see it is continuing to be so well preserved by the local people/gov. Some specifically interesting Spanish history sites I found in Western USA:

  • Juan Bautista de Anza Trail: The overland trail, from Mexico to San Francisco, of the Spanish/Basque explorer de Anza, has been preserved as a National Historic Trail by the US National Park Service, lending his name to a number of State Parks his trail passed though, like this one Anza-Borrego Desert State Park or even lending his name to a local College.

  • Pedro "Pere" Fages Monument: Stumbled upon this by accident, in the middle of the wilderness of Southern California, did not even know about this Catalan/Spanish explorer! Really interesting life in helping explore and build the Spanish Colonies in California - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedro_Fages

  • Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia: A volunteer military unit, raised in Barcelona, led by the above mentioned Pere Fages, that explored the whole west coast of North America during the 1700s, including the Pacific Northwest and into Alaska, years before Lewis and Clark were even born! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Company_of_Volunteers_of_Catalonia

  • Spanish Missions of California: the most famous reminder of Spain's long history in California. I've visited a few and they are very well preserved and still functioning as Catholic Basilicas, even for being the oldest buildings in the Western USA. You feel like you are back in Sevilla or some White Hill Towns of Andalucia when you visit them. My favourite is this one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_San_Luis_Rey_de_Francia

Posted by
3517 posts

We usually take a trip to Europe and a trip in the US each year. I spend a lot of time researching & planning our trip to Europe, but we more or less just went to the US destination. A few years ago, I started to approach our US trip more like a European trip and found the history fascinating (never cared for history in school). We went to Newport, Rhode Island and NYC last year - so much interesting history with the Summer home mansions in Newport and all of the distinct neighborhoods in NYC.

Posted by
3120 posts

@Allan, we actually had a brief discussion at brunch today about the Alberta Quebec 'thing'. They are from Alberta and I am quite apolitical so it was a short lived conversation:-)
But, you can't deny French were once a powerhouse of our country. France influenced several Maritime provinces before being ousted and heading to Louisiana and if still has a stirring impact in these regions today. Me, I am a British influenced West Coaster myself and still in awe of any place with more than 180 years of history.

Posted by
11182 posts

A bit different from what you asked, but somewhat related: When I first saw the Monument To The Discoveries in Belem outside Lisbon, I found it unimpressive as a piece of art. But then I got a shiver, realizing world history changed from that spot.

Posted by
1343 posts

Maria, one thing I learned about the French exploration into Canada is the meticulous records they kept and preserved. Have you been to the Fortress of Louisbourg in Cape Breton? When the English permanently knocked the French out of the area in 1760 they razed the town to the ground. Then in 1961, as a make-work project to battle unemployment, 1/4 of the town was rebuilt using the original plans that were found in archives in France. I find it amazing that records would have been kept, shipped back to France and then found again 300 years later. I do agree, that the French were a powerhouse, and a significant and very interesting part of our history.

Posted by
1113 posts

Hi Allen: Thanks or posting this thread again. Who would know the World would change so much. We went to Vancouver BC, a couple times in 2019. We went to the Anthropological Museum on the UBC Campus. The Aboriginal Works are still striking. It seemed smaller than I remembered; probably because it was "discovered" by tons of tourists. We also took Amtrak north from our local train platform for a daytrip to Vancouver. The train station is walkable to Downtown but not recommend because of the population of street people that congregate in this area. Although most are harmless, some are not in their right minds. Hopefully, most have found shelter for now. We found the elevated train station across the park from the train station and bought a "Tap Day Ticket" for $8.00 Canadian. We stopped in Chinatown hoping for lunch; totally rundown with a population of drug addicts. Most Chinese restaurants must have moved to Richmond. We walked on the other side of the street to Gas Town and found an Irish Pub with an open patio. They were filming a TV show across the street. We then walked to some galleries. and took the elevated train from the Waterfront back to the train station. We were 2 hrs early, but were too worn out to linger. We did meet some interesting folks from Australia and spent most of the train ride home lingering in the lounge car with them. Speaking of Beaver Pelts if in future, you are out West, Fort Langley, BC (when it is open again) tells the History of the Trappers. Meanwhile we can't cross the Border for now; although we did look at Canada across Birch Bay 2 weeks ago.

Posted by
1343 posts

When I first saw the Monument To The Discoveries in Belem outside Lisbon, I found it unimpressive as a piece of art. But then I got a shiver, realizing world history changed from that spot.

That goes back to a point I made in another post, that for me the quality of a piece of art is lost on me; i.e. Statue of David, but when I'm able to learn the history behind it, then it opens a whole new world for me (pun intended, in reference to Monument to the Discoveries). An unintended consequence of my European Adventures has been what I've learned about my own country's history.

Posted by
1025 posts

I'm from Ontario and outside my province I've only visited Montreal, Quebec and Vancouver Island (where I lived for a very short time). Our plan in the distant future is a long vacation on the east coast if and when insurance to Europe becomes a big issue.

I've been luck enough to have visited many historical sites/homes/gardens in the New England States, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York. My favourite spot is central Virginia, the swathe of farmland, vineyards and mountains around Charlottesville, containing a few residences of past presidents and famous civil war sites. Also, Staunton has the Shakespeare Center and the nicest church I've seen in North America, Trinity Episcopal.