When I was doing research for an encyclopedia article on the Battles of Ft. Brooke , it struck me that the city of Tampa has not generally promoted its Civil War history. There is a popular annual festival for a pirate, Jose Gaspar, whose reality is under dispute to the level of a Robin Hood or King Author, but no actions taken to honor its real history in our nation’s most fierce fratricidal conflict. I find this rather troublesome, given that the fact that a tourist-heavy region would neglect its Civil War history seems not only a crime against memory but also a foolish decision from an economic standpoint. Having a sense of history provides an area (and a person) with a depth and a grounding that increases resources to draw on, and makes a place more settled and less transient. Few who know the area would deny that Tampa could use anything it can get to make it a less transient and temporary sort of place, and ground itself more deeply in its genuine history.
As I have been engaged in various errands to find a somewhat more settled place for myself in Portland (yesterday I managed to set up a bank account here and also do some business at the DMV), I have been looking at the culture of the community to see what is appealing. So far I have found an annual Shakespeare Festival that looks well worth checking out, as well as a Civil War Roundtable that has monthly meetings for about half the year at Portland State University. It is pleasing to see such high culture so easily accessible. As a historian, I must admit that I have been somewhat slow in finding communities of like-minded people, although I have always enjoyed the conversation and brotherhood that one can find when there is a critical mass of people with a high regard and interest in historical and philosophical questions, with a love of open discussion and mutual respect of others.
What does it mean to be a friend of history? Throughout my short life I have been an avid reader and purchaser of historical works, no doubt supporting the livelihoods of authors and publishers engaged in researching and writing about history. I have done some modest research and writing of my own. I do my best to keep up contacts online with historians whose work I have come across as well as with others who share my interest in the field. Still, while I would consider myself a friend of history, I also know that I could stand to be better integrated into the community of historians, so as to have a better understanding of the larger context of the field, and more involvement in its social affairs.
It is often not fully understood just how social a field like history is. My research and work in history, as limited as it has been, has taken place because I have been able to communicate and interact with other people in the field. The book reviews I have written have come through communication with historical societies and foundations that were looking for someone to read books and comment thoughtfully on them. The articles I wrote came about from answering an advertisement to one of the universities I graduated from. These were not the work of a solitary historian writing alone with no interpersonal interaction, but rather from seeing and responding to opportunities as part of a community of historians. It is from our communities that we draw strength and encouragement and build up support networks and meet needs and find esteem and respect. We are not meant to be alone.