Tuesday, 27 December 2011

America’s History Surpasses 400 Years

I am very passionate about American history, but when I try and explain this to family friends or work colleagues, I am usually met by the same response – “what history? They only have 250 years don’t they?” The more I hear it, the more I think about the origins of America and how “old” their country is. If you declare that America only has 250 years of history, you are looking through a very narrow, European lens. If we take this angle, American history began with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But what were the origins of this? Why did it happen? And perhaps a more practical question, how did people arrive there? The history of one country does not start with a great political event. After all, the colonists did not suddenly appear there in the late eighteenth century. Settlers arrived in Jamestown in 1607, and some travelled to the New World as early as the 1580’s. So, from this angle, a “Western” view of American history stretches back nearly five hundred years. Yet, we must go back even further. The Native Americans have been living on the continent for thousands of years; a trip to any of the Native museums proves this. In the summer, I travelled to Utah and visited the Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum. The Park contains ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan site, dating from at least AD 825, while human activity in Hovenweep (South-eastern Utah) can be traced to over 10,000 years ago. This prehistory seems to be ignored. To say America has no history, or even ‘culture’, insults the hundreds of Native Americans who live there. We should move away from the idea that history is solely about politics, or even ‘recorded’ history. The concept of “America” as we know it may be relatively new, but the history of native peoples living on the American continent cannot be overlooked.

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