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the code III
It had already been a busy day for Scott Tennyson—and he still hadn’t watched the final DVD from Professor Papadopoulos. As he walked back to the basement storage room, he was anticipating Dr. Pop’s appearance. But he was also thinking about what he would to say the Young Art students tomorrow. Ideas were already popping into his head.
Still, he needed to view that last disk. As he placed it into the DVD player, Scott realized that this was probably going to be a turning point in his life. He paused for a moment. This might be the last time he would ever see or hear the old Professor. Scott felt sad. It was like saying goodbye to a longtime friend who was moving away.
He then pushed the PLAY button.
“Hello again, Mr. Tennyson. You are now viewing the third and final recording explaining The Code of Clio. I am so happy you found the black box and discovered these DVDs. I sincerely hope they prove beneficial to you.
“You may recall that for your last visit to The History Shoppe you were prepared to answer the simple question, “What Is History?” You may also remember, I was unable to meet you because I had to leave on very short notice. Unfortunately, that was due to circumstances beyond my control. Today I want to return to that question, “What is History?”
“Before considering the answer, I want to relate the story of a young scholar who faced that same question centuries ago. The answer she found has a bearing on what you are doing during these two weeks at the university. Her answer may have even more profound implications for you.
“Well, Scott, I hope you see in this parable a pattern for young minds. There are decisions that must be made in youth. That was a stunning moment when the student told the master Chen Ho, “I shall be the historian.” Her future then became clear. Committed and confident, from that point forward she knew what she would do.
“But dedicating oneself to the profession, as significant as that is, is just the beginning. The craft is not a single line from point A to point B, from decision to establishment. There are so many directions that may be followed by the historical scholar. The direction taken often depends upon language skills: one cannot become a scholar of Arab history, for example, and not be fluent in Arabic and perhaps other foreign languages.
“Then there are the historical periods: the on the way from Point A to point B, one must decide between specialties. With Europe, one may select any country—for instance a specialization in the History of Italy or England. Or perhaps one of the great periods of time: Classical Greece, Classical Rome, Medieval, Renaissance, Reformation, Early Modern, or Modern.
“With U.S. history which has a much shorter time span, the chronological choices are plentiful, starting with Colonial, and flowing through such specialties as the Revolutionary War, Federalist Era, Jacksonian Era, Civil War, Reconstruction, Industrialization, the Progressive Era, World War I, the Twenties, the New Deal, the Cold War Era, the Sixties, and the list will continue to expand. And don’t forget History of the West, Native American History, African-American History, Women’s History, Intellectual History, Social History, History of Labor. In fact, a new area of emphasis may be created before this DVD is finished.
“Like menu choices in a restaurant, the selection of a specialization will come at the appropriate time as the student works toward the full participation in the profession. But overarching the entire experience is one’s decision to tell the story as a Settler historian or a Pioneer historian.
“Let me explain my terminology. To me the Settler plays a respected and strategic role in historical study. This is the scholar who throws his or her energies into the great issues that have been debated for many years. Scholars of the U.S. Civil War, for example, have developed libraries of books and articles explaining the finest details of the causes, course, and consequences of that terrible conflict. The same is true for scholars of the French Revolution, World War I, the New Deal, and the Nazi Third Reich.
“We are all richer for their work and the learning it has encouraged. All pivotal events need to be understood and only detailed study can reveal the full story.
“There is, moreover, a pattern which often occurs within Settler scholarship. The first historical accounts usually dominate popular understanding for a few years. Inevitably, however, counter-arguments appear. We historians call this revisionism. But with time, the revisionists are revised, usually by a new generation of scholars who return more or less to the original interpretations and argue that they were the correct after all. The revisionists were wrong. This generation can be labeled counter-revisionist.
“Yet this perspective, too, has its counterarguments; we then call this level of the debate neo-revisionism. There is more argumentation that goes even beyond this level, but we don’t have names for these layers of historical debate, yet.
“But this is not folly. No, young man, this is the fine-tuning of history by the Settler experts who dissect each other’s arguments, add new research, challenge interpretations, but always work toward ultimate truth.
“The second approach to the historian’s craft I like to call the Pioneer. This is the scholarship that probes new fields, sheds light on the obscure or overlooked, and submits its findings for professional and public consideration. The Pioneer often widens the boundaries of the profession by borrowing relevant information and methodologies from other academic fields of study. In this regard, I offer the historian who interacts intellectually with scholars and methodologies from fields such as Political Science, Anthropology, English, Music, Art, Physics, and Biology.
“The Pioneer historian also may plunge into historical problems that have been neglected by the Settlers, issues that may even be unknown to them. This is usually because they exploit source materials long neglected by academics. In the latter case, consider scholars opening new fields such as the History of Sports, the History of Popular Culture, and the History of Technology.
“Many years ago, when I was learning the craft of the historian, I became excited about an interpretation within a great scholarly debate. As far as I was concerned, I had developed a novel conclusion that was strongly supported by the facts. It was certain to revolutionize historical thinking, I thought, at least on this one great issue.
“My mentor, one of the greatest professors of the day, agreed that my conclusion was original and important. But he was not as excited as I. Instead, he revealed something to me that I have never forgotten. And I want you never to forget, either. That lesson was that the debate, itself, is a strategic part of being a historian. No matter what specialization you select, you will always generate debate.
“A greater joy, he advised, might be derived from uncovering and bringing to light unexpected new information that compels reassessment of a well-discussed issue. Equally thrilling, he added, is to discover or resurrect a person of historical importance whose significance has diminished or even disappeared over time. Or, to describe a great event that affected society in its time, but has been absent from recent historical accounts. It is like awakening the world to a momentous achievement which, henceforth, must be taken into consideration whenever evaluating a particular historical time.
“Take for example the international situation in Europe in the years before the beginning of the First World War. It was a time of major nations, the so-called Great Powers, maneuvering for political predominance over each other. So powerful was the urge to dominate that alliances were formed among the nations.
“Around the year 1900 the most powerful of the European nations was Germany, headed by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Germany was economically strong with a mighty land army and an expanding naval prowess. Germany was diplomatically strong, too. The country was locked in a Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy. This Alliance turned the geographic center of Europe into a formidable political and military force that intimidated neighboring countries.
“This was because the other major players were not as well-organized. Great Britain was a significant power because the British had the world’s strongest Navy plus an empire that stretched around the Earth. But Britain was an island off the coast of Europe, and the British had no allies. Everyone mistrusted them.
“Russia had large numbers of infantry soldiers, but they were poorly trained and their leadership was inept. The Russians had a navy, but it was much too small to defend a country that extended from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean. And add to this, internal economic and political problems that threatened the stability of the nation itself.
“Then there was France. France was vulnerable, too. The French had a sizable empire, but they had recently lost a war with Germany, and their army was led by officers with outdated military skills. As for the French navy, it was too small to defend France’s long Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines adequately.
“Into this situation arrived Théophile Delcassé who in 1898 became France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Before he resigned in 1905, Delcassé managed to reverse the French position. He accomplished it through the use of diplomacy with not one shot fired. Delcassé had a plan to create a strong counterbalance to the Triple Alliance. Working with clever and committed ambassadors such as his friends Camille Barrere in Rome and Paul Cambon in London, the plan was realized by the time he left office.
“The Delcassé strategy was straightforward: France negotiated solutions to its colonial problems with the British in Africa and the Far East. In the process they formed a cordial understanding— an Entente Cordiale—with the Great Britain. With the Russians, France helped to strengthen the Tsar’s weak government and to bring the British into close understanding and cooperation with Russia. Having France as a supporter also helped Russia balance the threat Germany and Austria-Hungary posed to Russian interests in Eastern Europe.
“But the cleverest diplomatic maneuver concerned Italy. Here Delcassé and Ambassador Barrere negotiated a secret agreement by which the Italians pledged not to wage war against France should the French be attacked by Germany or Austria-Hungary. By this agreement Italy secretly pledged not to observe all the terms of its membership in the Triple Alliance.
“Think of that Scott: by 1905 France had forged a powerful balance to the Central European powers. It was now France, Great Britain, Russia in a Triple Entente, with Italy secretly sworn to neutrality in the case of war.
When World War I did erupt in Europe in 1914 the combatants formed exactly as Delcassé had foreseen: The Triple Alliance versus the Triple Entente—with Italy as a declared neutral. And when fighting ended four years later, it was Delcassé’s alignment, plus the addition of Italy in 1915 and the United States in 1917 that won the war.
“Yet who remembers Delcassé? Barrere? Cambon? They are lost to time. But their names should be well-know to historians. It may be someone like you, Scott Tennyson, who brings this remarkable French achievement to broader attention. It may be someone like you who removes these remarkable statesmen from obscurity and gives them and their diplomacy the credit they merit.
“I’ll give you another example of uncovering the overlooked and the still-unknown. I offer you the case of Richard Durham. You say you don’t know who this man was? Don’t feel badly, Scott. Nobody knew his name and importance until his greatest cultural achievement was brought out of the basement storage area of a great Midwestern university and presented to the world.
“Durham was an African-American dramatist who wrote radio plays in the 1940s—already a recipe for obscurity. His greatest accomplishment was a local radio series broadcast in Chicago. It was called Destination Freedom. In almost one hundred half-hour scripts, Durham dramatized the historic struggles against racism by people of African ancestry.
“Most of his plays were drawn from African-Americans history. He wrote of people as diverse as Crispus Attucks who stood with the American Colonialists and was killed in the Boston Massacre in 1771; Ida B. Wells the renown civil rights crusader who fought for the rights of women and African-Americans in the late nineteenth century; and Gwendolyn Brooks whose poetry immortalized the rhythms of life for African-Americans living in urban neighborhoods in the mid-twentieth century.
“Today Richard Durham occupies a prominent place in the ranks of celebrated African-American writers. His work is recognized as a major accomplishment, one of the greatest achievements in the history of U.S. broadcasting. His scripts are published and his radio plays are restaged. He is frequently mentioned in scholarly books, and he is all over the internet.
“But, had a historian not entered that obscure storage area and brought recordings of his shows to public recognition, the work of Richard Durham would be lost to civilization. Who would have known Destination Freedom? Who would have remembered this brilliant popularization of African-American history? Historical event, broadcasting milestone, literary triumph, racial attainment: what a loss that would have been to U.S. history and to the history of all mankind.
“You must remember at The History Shoppe when I posed the great philosophical question: if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it make a noise? Well, young man, if the literary works of Richard Durham had not been heard again through the endeavors of a Pioneer historian, would Durham have made a noise in our cultural legacy, in the history of humanity? Of course not. And would our historical understanding of American civilization have been diminished? Absolutely.
“But all this begs the question: How many historical achievers like Richard Durham have been lost forever? More importantly, how many might still exist, neglected in obscure storage sites? They wait for young scholars such as you to discover them, then place their accomplishments within historical context and present them to a public eager to learn more of its past.
“For a taste of what I speak of, I want you to become a Pioneer this afternoon. I will introduce you to a fascinating aspect of human history that has been overlooked by scholarship. It is filled with adventure and exhilaration. You will now have the experience of investigating history that is practically unknown to the world.
“Let me set the stage. The introduction of the motion picture camera had a profound effect on civilization. From educational device to feature motion picture, film quickly became an important part of our culture. One consequences of the popularity of film was to excite the imaginations of a generation of adventurous people who travelled the world and made movies of what they encountered.
“Think of it, Scott, these were modern Daniel Boones visiting and photographing societies practically unknown to the world at large. They crisscrossed the Earth— pole to pole, jungle to desert, continent to continent—always filming, always looking to expose the unknown.
“Most of these photographer-adventurers operated in the 1930s and 1940s. They photographed everything, then returned to the United States where they often released edited versions of their movies for commercial sale.
“You are now going to ride with one such adventure photographer as he makes one of the most dangerous road trips in history. His name is Sullivan Richardson. He was a rugged outdoors type who conceived a crazy notion in late 1940. He and two friends—thankfully, one of them was a car mechanic—would drive a brand-new Plymouth automobile from Washington, D.C. to the Arizona-Mexican border, then due South to the tip of Cape Horn at the bottom of South America. And they would film their adventure.
“As I have discussed earlier, Scott, there is no more Clio machine for you. You are now able to do what every professional historian does. You will place yourself intellectually into the document and ask questions of the participants and answer them yourself. As you ride along, just image that you are questioning Richardson and his companions. Their response will become obvious to you. Think of this experience as a virtual Clio machine. It’s the version every historian knows how to operate.
“Oh, I almost forgot. The movie you are visiting is entitled The Rugged Road to Panama. It is a record of the harrowing automobile expedition that Richardson and his colleagues took to the Panama Canal. They then refreshed themselves and drove from Panama to Cape Horn at the bottom of South America. But you are only going for the first part. You will leave the group in Panama.
With that, Scott, I bid you good luck. I will show you the film, but I will not be here when you finish. Our interaction is completed, young man. I wish you a happy and productive life. You are my favorite. Make me proud.
“Now, Scott Tennyson, welcome to your adventure south.”
As the film rolled past the opening credits, Scott was swept into its dynamism. He could say nothing during the first minutes because Sullivan Richardson was on camera describing the adventure he, Arnold Whitaker, and Kenneth Van Hee experienced on the road trip from Washington D.C. to the Straits of Magellan in Chile.
But once the movie switched to actual footage of the undertaking, Scott was able to insert himself into the film and begin asking questions. He began by introducing himself to the three adventurers, pointing out that he was interested to learn about their motivation. “We’re adventurers,” Sully Richardson explained. “We had a chance for a wonderful experience by driving a car down the Pan American Highway from top to bottom while filming it and writing articles and even a book about the trek. So, we decided to take the chance.
“Most of all, Scott, we relish the excitement doing something that no one has ever done before. Maybe we’re a little crazy. How else can we explain leaving our comfortable homes to face a tremendously difficult task that we’re imposing on ourselves?”
“That’s right,” said Arnold. “New technology always seems to spark the imaginations of explorer types. We’re simply a new generation of explorers. Columbus and Magellan did it with sturdy ships. Daniel Boone had powerful rifles. The pioneers used covered wagons and soon railroads to move westward.
“Then came Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and others who sought adventure by flying airplanes great distances for the first time in human history. We’re cut from the same cloth, except we’re doing it in a 1941 Plymouth that’s been modified for a long, tough journey. And we’re taking along our professional movie cameras.”
“But, we’re not softies, Scott. We want to do it the rugged way,” said Ken. “So we’ll avoid modern paved highways where and if they even exist. We’ll try to follow the old dirt roads and trails. We may have to employ local men to drag our car over the rocks, across rivers, and out of the gaping holes in the road, but we’re determined to do it a way that’s true to the great explorers of the past.
While the men discussed motivation, the picture on the monitor showed mud, boulders, rivers, and other obstacles that had to be overcome. As a team of three mules towed the car through a river, Scott could appreciate the difficulties the adventurers were encountering.
Soon they were in Mexico City and visiting museums and other cultural sites. Thanks to the National Museum the group was able to inspect and photograph cultural treasures of ancient Mexico. From the Aztec stone calendar to the sacrificial stone where human hearts were presented to the ancient gods, the Americans could touch the distant past. But the highlight was inspecting Mexican antiquities of pure gold.
“These are the products of a sophisticated culture,” Sully explained. “Just look at the craftsmanship. We’re filming real beauty.”
Soon, however, the adventurers were back on the road—except it wasn’t a road. Much of the time was spent moving the car along rocky burro trails, sometimes being pushed or pulled by local helpers. As Sully computed it, south of Oaxaca it took twenty-five days to travel fifty miles.
“I don’t care how primitive the roads are,” Sully said, “you can’t escape the gloriousness of Mexico. The flowers, the cactus plants, the friendly people, it’s a wondrous country we’re passing through.”
For all of the Mexican attractiveness, Scott was not impressed with some of the animal life he saw on the trip. A pet anteater, countless red ants, and all those iguanas—especially iguanas for dinner—were disagreeable to him. But he didn’t complain. After all, he was a visitor, not really a participant.
Nevertheless, he did join the men at dinner as they ate sardines on tortillas, and had panela for dessert. Not really appetizing, he agreed, but thankfully it wasn’t roasted iguana.
One aspect of the trek that was not discussed too much was its inherent danger. It could be something simple, like Arnold’s accident with the hard sugar panela, or Sully’s bloody leg injury. But it could be much worse, and the crushing of the Plymouth’s fender and undercarriage gave indication of the threats they all faced driving over large rocks, skimming the cliffs along mountainous roads, and avoiding massive ruts in the road.
Eventually they reached Guatemala. It had taken three months to drive across Mexico. But now the men encountered an all-weather road. And it was gratefully welcomed.
“This is wonderful. A well-constructed roadway from one end of Guatemala to the other,” Arnold said with real enthusiasm in his voice. “Maybe I won’t have to do so many emergency repairs for a change.”
As they passed peasants along the road, Scott began to wonder how a magnificent civilization like that of the Aztec could have collapsed so totally. And his questioning increased when the explorers stopped to visit Quirigua, the ruins of the great Mayan civilization which predated the Aztecs. Some scholars, Scott learned, placed the Mayan society as early as 179 B.C.
From their magnificent cities that had populations in the hundreds of thousands, to their sophisticated architecture, and even an ingenious calendar, everything he saw suggested that the Mayans possessed an advanced culture and great knowledge. “Some question where the Mayans came from,” Scott thought, “but I really wonder where they went, leaving all this brilliance behind.”
Crossing Guatemala was a breeze relative to driving through Mexico. And now, El Salvador was even easier. That was because this beautiful nation had paved roads. In fact, the explorers were able to spend time visiting the capital city, San Salvador, because driving was so pleasant.
“Come on, Scott,” yelled Ken, “Get in the car. We’re going to visit a native industry. We’re going to see how the Salvadoran women weave straw hats.”
Scott jumped in the Plymouth, and the crew was soon observing a group of women and girls expertly fashioning hats from straw and palm grass. The intertwining of strands of material and the intricacy of the craftsmanship reminded him of knitting. But these weavers used only their fingers to keep the many strands of grass flowing in an even, interconnected pattern.
The next country, Honduras, was disappointing to Scott. It was a throwback to the infrastructure of Mexico. The roads here were often bull-cart trails, long narrow troughs—dry, very dusty, and filled with deep ruts. He even saw a ox trapped in such a gulley, although a farmer eventually coaxed his large animal out of the hole.
And then there were the tarantulas. They were large, black, hairy spiders—some as large as a man’s hand—that seemed to be everywhere in Honduras. Scott did not like encountering wild tarantulas.
“Aw, don’t mind them,” Sully reassured the young historian. “They won’t hurt you, as long as you know how to handle yourself around them.”
Soon the car was parked as the Escuela Agricola Panamericana, an agricultural school maintained in partnership by the Honduran government and the powerful American banana corporation, the United Fruit Company. Sullivan Richardson was impressed by the school’s program to train young men to be modern farmers.
Scott said nothing to diminish Sully’s optimism. But he knew the history of Central America in the last half of the twentieth century. He understood that in almost all the republics social progress was hampered by political instability, civil wars, coup d’états, and corrupt governmental leaders. It made Scott sad to think that this beautiful part of the world where the people were so hospitable would remain virtually unchanged even into contemporary times.
“Scott, chase that iguana over toward me,” Arnold said, “I want to run him up one of these trees. The trees are filled with them. Too bad we never learned to appreciate iguana as a dinner selection.” Scott shooed one of the pesky lizards toward Arnold, then returned to the car. He didn’t care for these big ugly lizards, or the tarantulas.
The trip remained predictable as they passed through Honduras: bouncy, dusty, and dangerous. It wasn’t any better in Nicaragua, especially driving over the treacherous, soft sand along Lake Nicaragua. The adventurers then entered beautiful Costa Rica. But here the trip took an unexpected turn. They quickly learned that it was impossible to drive the car to their halfway destination, Panama. There just wasn’t a road.
“We can’t get through this country, Arnold, because there are no roads that go all the way,” Sully said. “If you think Mexico was tough, it would take us four months and 150 men to pull it off in Costa Rica. We can’t afford the time and the energy. I think we should take the United Fruit Company offer to float our car to Panama on one of the company’s banana launches.”
Ken reluctantly agreed with Richardson. “You’re right, Sully, we have to abandon our ‘macho explorer’ attitude and face reality,” he conceded. “It’s either take the car by boat or give up the expedition. And I really want to see Cape Horn.”
Before the launch departed, Scott and the adventurers visited a banana plantation. Here they saw how the fruit were harvested and prepared for shipment to ports all over the world. What amazed Scott most was how the harvested banana plant was pruned almost down to its base, but in a year grew tall and was filled again with bananas.
The ending of the film was almost anticlimactic for Scott. The Plymouth and its passengers rolled into Panama, stopping at the Panama Canal to ceremonially douse that bruised but still tough Plymouth with sea water. However, after all he had experienced, Scott was now ready to leave the expedition. “We’re leaving for South America in a few days,” said Sully, “It’s too bad you won’t be coming with us, Scott.”
“I’d love to go,” Scott replied, “but I have other obligations. Maybe I’ll take the trip with you some other time.”
“Maybe a lot of other people will take the trip some day,” Sully suggested, “because the Pan American Highway one day will be the greatest highway in the world from the United States to the Magellan Straits and Cape Horn.”
“Hope so,” Arnold remarked. “See ya, Scott. Good luck with your studies.”
“Adios, Scott,” I hope you learned something by coming along with us,” added Ken. “We’ve enjoyed your company.”
“I sure did learn something, guys,” Scott replied. “It’s been one of the most interesting and exciting times of my life.”
He had done it. Scott Tennyson has just travelled to Panama by car, and he accomplished it without the Clio machine. “Dr, Pop was correct, the machine is now in my mind,” Scott said to himself. “My brain is now a virtual Clio machine. I can do this now with any film, any document, all by myself.”
But Scott soon found himself thinking about what he had just seen, and how all of it was relevant to history. “I understand even more clearly now that history is not just a political story,” he decided. “Everything from tarantulas and transportation infrastructure, to Salvadoran hat weavers and the golden artifacts of Mexico’s heritage make up the historical experience here. As a historian I must know as much as I can about a subject in order to make the most informed interpretations of its history. This road trip, I mean this film, has taught me a lot.”
|Copyright © 2010 J. Fred MacDonald-All Rights Reserved.|