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The Code I
Scott was tired and extremely curious as he entered Stebbins Hall. His fatigue came from a full afternoon of sifting through stacks of films in weighty metal cans; his curiosity was intense because of the black box he found with the bizarre imprint of his Louis XVI lucky coin.
Following a quick shower and a change of clothes, Scott met up with several other Young Scholars and walked to Gino’s Trattoria for dinner. The students were eager to share stories of their first day in the academic trenches, and nothing loosens the conversation of seventeen-year-olds better than food and colas.
Scott was genuinely interested in hearing the battle stories of his colleagues. Laura Alvarez of Young Literature was working on a project involving the history plays of William Shakespeare. Hal Johnson of Young Chemistry was researching the discovery of subatomic chemicals since the end of World War II. Matt Grundy of Young R.O.T.C. was studying the battle strategies employed by both sides at Gettysburg during the U.S. Civil War.
As for the ever-confident Steve Bergson and his violin project, as well as practicing his fiddle, he was analyzing tapes and films of famous conductors to learn their distinctive styles and techniques. After the first day, Steve was certain that he was qualified to conduct the University Orchestra and play First Violin, simultaneously. The others at Gino’s were not so sure.
Scott was inhibited in what he could say. He had no problem talking about Dr. Sargon and his project in the museum archive. He was enthusiastic when describing some of the motion pictures and paper items he uncovered that day. But something told him to avoid mentioning the black box. If Professor Papadopoulos really were involved with the box, Scott knew he could not discuss it openly. He was sworn to secrecy regarding Dr. Pop and preferred to avoid any questions about the coin, The History Shoppe, and especially the old Professor.
Nevertheless, the students exchanged stories for much of the evening. Soon a pattern emerged. Just as the level of conversation began to diminish, another hungry Young Scholar would join the group, ready to eat and share his or her experiences. The infusion of fresh anecdotes revitalized the energy of the group, and the intensity temporarily returned.
As he listened to the others speaking, Scott noticed that history was central to all their projects. With Laura it was Shakespeare as a historian. Hal was investigating the history of chemistry. For Matt it was military history. Even Steve and his conductors involved historical research. The same was true for the latecomers from Young Art, Young Physics, and the other disciplines. History, Scott realized, ties everything together. It’s a perspective that everyone utilizes.
When the group finally left the restaurant and headed back to Stebbins, Scott kept thinking about the place of history in everyone’s life. From a college professor discussing Greek history, to a baseball announcer referring to the batting averages of star players from decades ago, to a housewife researching the genealogy of her family tree, it’s all about history.
History was the social adhesive that bound people together, he concluded. Families, communities, states, and nations, are all linked by history. “What a civilizing discipline it is,” he thought to himself. Scott was more certain than ever that he wanted to become a historian.
The next day, after the morning meeting of all the Young Scholars, Scott hurried to the Museum. He truly enjoyed working with the Henderson Collection, but he was also resolved to get to the bottom of what he was now calling The Mystery of the Black Box. This time he borrowed a screwdriver from the maintenance people at Stebbins and brought it to the Museum. He was determined to open the box and learn who had left it for him and what was meant by the inscription, “The Code of Clio.”
When he reached his basement desk, Scott retrieved the box and pried it open. Inside he found a dusty collection of DVDs that were numbered from one to three. Fortunately, Dr. Sargon had equipped his workspace with a DVD player. Scott turned on the machine, popped in the first disk and waited for the picture.
As soon as an image appeared on the monitor, Scott felt vindicated. “I was right! I knew it would be him!” he said out loud as the face of Professor Papadopoulos came into view. Scott was at once happy to see the man who guided his thinking about history, and relieved to know that Dr. Pop was still alive, or—given the mysterious disappearance of The History Shoppe as well as the old man—that the Professor was even real.
Scott remained unclear about the meaning of “The Code of Clio.” But it was obviously from the old professor. That was him on the monitor. Scott began thinking that perhaps the DVDs were kind of special communication made by Dr. Pop and intended for the boy historian.
He watched as Professor Papadopoulos fumbled around with some papers on his desk, then turned directly to the camera that was recording his appearance. “My dear friend, Scott Tennyson, it is so nice to be with you again. Please forgive this one-way communication, but there were so many things I wanted to explain when we had those weekly meetings at The History Shoppe. There just wasn’t enough time.
“That was a while ago, and you probably are still confused because when you returned for the last time and could not find The History Shoppe. Please forgive me, Scott, but that’s how we operate. We couldn’t stay too long. There were too many other young historians to meet and introduce to history.
“But you were a quick learner. You didn’t really need more time. I wish they all were like you, Scott.
“By now, I hope that you have discovered that The History Shoppe did not totally vanish. I hope you realize that it merely found a new location, one where it can be even more useful to you. No, it’s not back on Third Street in your hometown. It is now permanently located in your mind, Scott. You have assimilated The History Shoppe into your mentality. You have become one of us, and we have joined you. Welcome, Mr. Tennyson.
“You are probably wondering about the purpose of these recordings. Actually, they give me a chance to offer you some final insights. I hope that someday you will find these disks and add these insights to all you have learned about history. In fact, if you are watching me now, then you have discovered my last lessons for you. They are part of what I like to call The Code of Clio.
“Ah, The Code of Clio. You must be wondering what this means. Sounds like some secret society complete with a blood oath and a secret form of communication. No, Scott, it’s nothing so convoluted.
“The Code of Clio should be no mystery to you. It is simply the totality of methodologies, ethics, and civilized standards that historians employ in their research, writing, and teaching. The Code encompasses rules of professional behavior, disciplined inquiry, skillful evaluation, and honest presentation. It also concerns the dignity each of us brings to this ancient profession, and the respect we show for the historians who preceded us. The Code of Clio has influenced historians ever since our muse was a young woman zipping around Mt. Olympus.
“You have already been exposed to some of the Code. And, I must say, you did exceedingly well in embracing it. What do you think you were doing when you visited The History Shoppe? You were learning The Code.
“But now, I need one last chance to speak to you. I want to reaffirm some important lessons you learned more than a year ago. And, I hope to introduce some ideas for your consideration that may serve you well in the future.
“As you can plainly see, the black box I left for only you contains three DVD disks. For all the grayness in my hair, I love modern technology. I was actually excited to make these recordings. What fun—the camera, the lighting, microphones, and fancy machines—all very contemporary. The final product, these DVDs, is arranged for you to view one disk per day.
“Again, it should go without saying, the DVDs and what they communicate are for your eyes and ears only. The pledge of secrecy you swore at The History Shoppe must be extended to these disks.
“I must add a note of caution. Should you attempt to replay any of the disks you will quickly discover that each one is only good for a single viewing. No replays possible. We have to protect the privacy of our traditions, so the contents of each disk will disappear after it has been played once. So, pay strict attention while watching.
“On this first DVD, I want to spend time emphasizing the most useful lesson I presented during your visits to The History Shoppe. But allow me to set my stage through the use of a famous short story—or, at least a portion of that tale.
“Among the fabulous Middle Eastern stories that appear in that ancient collection known as A Thousand and One Arabian Nights is the fable of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. It’s a fairly bloody account involving murder and greed, but with honesty triumphant. As a morality tale it is also very gory. So, morality tales are frequently very gory. But, forget about the blood and mayhem. We are only concerned with one aspect of the narrative.
“At this point, Scott, I can hear you saying ‘What does an Arabic tale have to do with the study of history?’ That’s a good question. I repeat the opening of the Ali Baba story to remind you that you have your own magical word that will open the caverns of history for you. You encountered it at The History Shoppe. Do you remember STAMPIERE ? Well, Mr. Tennyson, STAMPIERE is your magic word.
“Even if you do remember the word, it is so crucial that I feel compelled to reemphasize its importance. It is a wondrous word that can open up every text you read, every artifact you examine, every document you analyze. Through STAMPIERE you can learn so much about history and communicate your discoveries to others.
“Do I need to repeat the complete lesson about STAMPIERE being a mnemonic device that allows you to see and interpret history through a wide variety of viewpoints? You must recall it, Scott.
“By submitting the materials you encounter to the perspectives of STAMPIERE , you will draw much from your historical studies. Be it on film, paper, phonograph record, recording tape, painting, pottery, or whatever, STAMPIERE it and you will pass through a magical doorway just as did Ali Baba. Once inside the cave you will uncover the richness of history which you may then share with the world.
“By now you may be saying, STAMPIERE is quite helpful, but how can it be completely effective if I can’t be transported into a historical film? I need the Clio machine. Where is the Clio machine?
“Well, Scott, the machine is not here—although Clio the muse is with us. I can sense her presence now, and I hope that she is affecting your thoughts, too. The truth is that as it is with The History Shoppe, you no longer need the Clio machine. You can accomplish with your own mind everything you learned about historical analysis through the Clio machine. The key to the process is that mnemonic device I taught you.
“In fact, Mr. Tennyson, even before you encountered the Clio machine, you were analyzing the past on your own. Did you forget that coin from the French Revolution, the one I left for you to possess? Remember how you learned so much about French history by analyzing that single coin? That was because you asked the right questions and found the appropriate answers. Didn’t you know that you were thinking for yourself before you ever entered the machine?
“Let me put it another way, Mr. Tennyson. When you were a child you probably had training wheels on your first bicycle. They allowed you to learn to keep your balance, to pedal correctly, and to use the brakes properly. But it didn’t take long before you were ready for the next level, ready to ride a bicycle using only two wheels. Your father most likely removed the training wheels, and you became what he and your mother called ‘a big boy now’ because you could now ride the same way older children and adults rode their bikes.
“The Clio machine was like the training wheels you needed as a beginner. Well, it’s now time to take off the extra wheels and pedal on your own. You must read history and analyze its sources on your own. You can do it, Mr. Tennyson. I’m very confident about that.
“So, you have that magical word. Make it a part of your thinking. When you seek to know and understand history, just say the word and marvel at its power. It is potent. It can open doorways in massive boulders. It will reveal history to you.
“As an exercise to refresh your use of this magical word, I want to show you an old film which has much to teach those who STAMPIERE. Watch the movie, analyze what you see, and experience the powerfulness of the word.”
The fact was that Scott had never forgotten the mnemonic device. He had used it many times when studying. The word had been particularly helpful when he was writing term papers and final exam essays. Still, Scott was eager to see what film Dr. Pop had prepared for him.
“What I am going to show you,” announced Dr. Papadopoulos, “is a short film—a very short one. It was intended for children in the United States in the 1930s. It’s a silent animated cartoon that features two heroes of radio and motion pictures at the time: the Lone Ranger and his Indian sidekick Tonto. If you are ready, here is the film.”
What Scott saw was definitely meant for kids. In simple animation, it told the story of an elderly rancher who was hanged from a tree by rustlers who stole his cattle. But the Lone Ranger and Tonto rode into the situation. The Ranger shot the rope suspending the old man, thereby saving his life. After reviving him, the Lone Ranger and Tonto chased the bandits and captured them following a prolonged gunfight. Then they returned to the old rancher to assure him that his cattle had been rescued and the culprits were in custody.
“Pretty simple and straightforward stuff,” Scott said to himself as he watched. And, just as Dr. Pop promised, it was short. It lasted less than ninety seconds. But then, as Dr. Pop had instructed, he began to apply STAMPIERE to the cartoon. As usual not all of the categories applied, but he was struck by the complexity of what he discovered within the film.
First, he concluded, by every indication the old rancher was SOCIALLY a law-abiding man. He owned a ranch and cattle and seemed to live a responsible life. In contrast, the bad guys disrupted social order and had to be brought to justice. In fact, the story was all about the clash between the civilized and those who disrespect the rules of society.
There was another social point. Scott recognized that Tonto was a Native American who fought for justice as much as the Lone Ranger. During the gunfight, Tonto was alongside the Ranger firing at the rustlers. This was a major departure from the racial prejudice which typified the times. Showing a member of a racial minority as a respected enforcer of the law was a significant cultural step toward social equality and racial integration.
Second, ADMINISTRATELY Scott thought about the administration of justice. He remembered that the Lone Ranger was a relentless supporter of law and order who cooperated with local legal authorities. The cartoon paid honor to those who administered the law. Thus, one could assume that justice would be administered honestly once the rustlers were captured and turned over to the local authorities.
Third, the film showed the Lone Ranger and Tonto to possess MILITARY characteristics. Neither man was in the U.S. Army, but they operated like cavalrymen resolving crimes in an unsettled West. In fact, the gunfight in which the Ranger and Tonto forced the thieves to surrender had all the appearance of a wartime battle. In a sense, Scott concluded, the Lone Ranger and Tonto were civilian soldiers waging war against enemies of order who were corrupting American civilization.
Then, POLITICALLY, the film clearly sent the message that crime would be solved, good people would be protected, and law would triumph over villainy. Scott recognized that this film was a political statement as much as it was entertainment. Appearing in the midst of the Great Depression, the cartoon delivered a relevant message. Unlawful activity was an option for people during this time of uncertainty. The political representatives who led U.S. society had to convince all citizens that law and order were preferable to anarchy or even an alternative form of government. In fact, Scott reasoned, the political message of this cartoon was one that every society must deliver to its citizens all the time.
INTELLECTUALLY/CULTURALLY the story was a Wild West fable, a distinctly American cultural product that grew from the historical experience of the U. S. expansion through the wilderness. Even before seeing this film, Scott had always been struck by the cowboy ideal that American settlers were good, hard-working people trying to civilize the wilderness. And in every Western he had even seen, including this Lone Ranger cartoon, the few bad guys who disrupted this civilizing process never succeeded because there were always champions—from officers sworn to uphold the law, to helpful do-gooders—who protected the weak and assisted them in overcoming adversity.
ECONOMICALLY, the story indicated that the beaten rancher was an honest businessman, a law-abiding capitalist with legitimate investments in land and cattle. The plot demonstrated that even when things go badly, it is not the fault of the capitalist system of private ownership. Bad people are the fault. But through heroic intervention, they will inevitably be eliminated and the system will be right again.
Startling to Scott were the RELIGIOUS implications of the film. It was like a Sunday School lesson, he decided, a story of Good versus Evil which is fundamental to all religions and moral codes. Scott understood the story as being about what happened when a happy paradise was disrupted by Evil. Like gun-toting Good Samaritans—or even secular Saviors—the Lone Ranger and Tonto defeated Evil and restored peacefulness to the new Eden the settlers were building in the wilderness.
“I can’t believe that little movie has so much in it,” Scott thought. “Of course little kids wouldn’t recognize all of this. They would be happy the good guys won. But the messages were there, nonetheless.” He concluded also that this film reaffirmed principles basic to the American way of life as much as any court of law or religious sermon.
Although he had not forgotten STAMPIERE, it was a rewarding exercise for Scott to analyze an old film and draw historical conclusions. It reminded him of his original encounters with the Professor when he learned so much. Plus, it was nice to see Dr. Pop again.
For the rest of the day Scott reminisced about The History Shoppe as he sorted through historical materials and entered his evaluations into the computer. He really wanted to play the next DVD and see what Dr. Papadopoulos had to say. But the rules were one day, one disk. He would just have to wait.
|Copyright © 2010 J. Fred MacDonald-All Rights Reserved.|