History in Action
History doesn’t always get the reputation as being an active part of our lives. Instead most people view it is a passive thing we study and try to learn from. At the archives, our staff sees that history is not something you simply file away and forget about. Instead it is an active thing that often reaches out and touches us in ways we would not suspect.
For the past several months we have worked to participate in #tbt (throwback Thursday) on Facebook and Twitter. Each we post a historic picture or document related to something going on in the present. Then we sit back and watch as people interact with it.
A "Historic" image showing Abraham Lincoln participating in #tbt
One of our more recent posts that attracted attention celebrated local veterans in honor of Veterans Day. Utilizing two posts we highlighted a series of documents from our Spiggle Family Collection related to Samuel L. Spiggle, a World War One veteran. They included an order to report for duty issued by Shenandoah County’s draft board and a postwar letter Spiggle received from an army buddy. Both also included background information that helped connect these documents with the broader story of Shenandoah County’s World War One veterans.
An order from the Shenandoah County Draft Boar for Samuel Spiggle to report for duty.
The reaction these items received on social media show just how active history can be. Within 24 hours the posts had been viewed over 3000 times, had received over 400 likes, 15 shares, and 17 comments. Many of those who interacted with the posts were family members who shared stories about their relatives, pictures, and historical insight that had escaped the official record. Others posted stories about veterans in their families and how they had similar experiences. Veterans also spoke up about how their efforts to connect with war buddies after they came home was just as important as Samuel’s efforts to stay in contact with his. One of these turned out to be Samuel L. Spiggle’s great-grandson who was currently serving in the US Army and had no idea his ancestor had left a record of his service almost a century before.
A post way letter sent to Samuel Spiggle from one of his war buddies.
All of this shows how active history making can be. Individuals are rarely interested in historic items unless it connects with something they can relate to. Items like the one from Samuel Spiggle do this. Veterans can see how soldiers from the past dealt with the horrors of war and the transaction from military to civilian life. Civilians can see how their relatives served, how it affected them, and how that shaped the way they developed their lives. Each one of us must be prepared to see how history can actively reach out and alter our perspective on the world.