Rooted In A Sense Of Place And Time

While driving to work today, the deejay on the radio was playing songs with geographic themes, some of which I was not familiar with, such as Alphaville’s “Big In Japan” and Kraftwerk’s [1] “Tour de France.” Having long considered geography a subject of importance, I pondered some of the ways in which it is important to consider our geography as closely tied to a sense of place. At times our understanding of place can be rather casual. For example, I could say that I prefer to read while sitting in a restaurant drinking sweet tea, which combines a few elements of place. For one, it signifies that I view eating and reading, or generally being in a social environment even if behaving in a solitary way therein. For another, the fact that I drink sweet tea signifies another bit of geography, my growing up in the South, and acquiring various tastes, however detrimental to my health, from my sojourn there.

Often, though, place is a matter of great importance. Mankind seems somewhat driven to draw lines on maps, to mark and defend territory, and to leave a place on the map with geographic names of inhabited sites, rivers, mountains, forests, bays, and the like. At times, these place names, learned by those who are immigrants to a region, are a way of recording some aspect of the people who were there before. For example, quite a few people within my acquaintance look to the names of the rivers of Europe as a way of demonstrating some sort of thread of travel of a particular sort of people who was known for leaving the serpent’s trail of their travels on the map for us to read today, if we are so inclined. Many of life’s issues deal with rivers, whether those rivers are international borders, or whether those rivers are the most convenient path to market, as was the case in the antebellum South, leaving them to be monopolized by the wealthiest, so that geography can serve to mark social and economic boundaries and not merely physical ones.

Geography serves a role similar to chronology in the study of the history of mankind. Chronology roots events in time [2], for we cannot have a sure grasp of cause and effect without a firm understanding of timing. For example, an understanding of the chronology of war suggests that the most illustrious generals of a successful war have a good chance at winning power in the United States after that war. For example, our first president, George Washington, was a hero of the American Revolution. Andrew Jackson became a national hero due to the War of 1812 and his successful seizure of land from various civilized tribes of the Southeastern United States, as well as a flagrantly illegal but popular invasion of Florida that led Spain to sell that state in despair of holding it against expansionistic American neighbors. William Henry Harrison later used his own popularity as a military leader to win the presidency, for all the good it did him after dying of pneumonia not long thereafter. Not long after that Zachary Taylor won the presidency as a result of his heroics during the Mexican-American War, Ulysses Grant [3] won the presidency after the American Civil War, and Eisenhower won after World War II. Not all wars led to a president, but at the same time we can see that leading a successful military effort is considered presidential, and a firm grasp of chronology makes that conclusion plain.

Budding young journalists as young as elementary school learn the basic questions of any good story: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Each of these questions, and its answer, leads to a fertile area of study for those who are so inclined, and a grasp of all of the answers to those questions allows for conclusions to be drawn and insight to be gained. Chronology tells us when something took place. Geography is about answering questions of where. Still other areas of study examine the other questions, and are worthy of mention because these are interesting matters also. Biography, in all of its forms, is about questions of who. This can range from memoirs and autobiographies of people dealing with their own lives and seeking to defend their own character, or it can involve the careful study of the lives of others from research and archives. Much of archeology and various archival work deals with questions of what that are interrelated with who, where, and when. For example, knowing an archeological assemblage that uniquely identifies a particular group of people allows us to trace, at least vaguely, the borders of that group over time even independent from written records on their parts, or selfies on social media showing people holding market-bought bichrome Philistine pottery in Ashkelon or Ekron tagged #seapeoples or #philistiaforever. Even fields like engineering can provide historical understanding by looking at how something could have been built, like the Temple at Jerusalem or the Pyramids, to give a couple of the more interesting examples. There are many questions about the past that we can have, and investigating these questions requires skill in certain fields, or an appreciation of the skill of others and an ability to understand and apply their own research and investigations.

Why do we care about this, though? As human beings, our answers to various questions makes a big difference when it comes to legitimacy. For example, I am fond of reading about the precolombian visits and settlements of Europeans in North America. Why? I care about such matters because I am a descendant of colonial Europeans, and because I recognize that the longer the span of contact and settlement that can be found for Europeans, the more legitimate the settlements of contemporary European Americans like myself. Such questions are clearly rooted in time and place, and evidence of European settlement and trade and construction in North America going back thousands of years means that many people have cause to consider themselves to be natives here, a matter of considerable cultural and political importance. For the same reason people promote Black History Month or Women’s History Month and various other months, because having an understanding of the past helps us to feel better about ourselves and our own place in the world, that not only do we matter as people, but that we have contributed for a long time to the well-being of the world, and that our voice deserves to be heard and that we are people whose background and history are worthy of honor and respect. Ultimately, that is what all of this study is about, to give credit where it is due, to honor those who came before us, and to bask in their reflected glories as the heirs of worthy men and women seeking to make our own mark on the world and to leave it better than we found it, to achieve lasting and glorious fame and to be remembered in days to come. We are beings who are rooted in time and place, reaching out in hope towards the future yet to come.



[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Rooted In A Sense Of Place And Time

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Oregon Divided: A Regional Geography | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Beyond The Map | Edge Induced Cohesion

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