Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why I Write History...and Ultrarunning

On the side I am an amateur historian and researcher on the American Civil war.  I've had a couple of articles published in The Gettysburg Magazine, a scholarly publication that features in-depth research strictly on that particular battle.

I am currently (slowly) working on another article now and was having some self-doubts abouts the value of doing so.  Then a couple weeks ago (10 Jan) I read this piece in The Writer's Almanac about the historian Stephen Ambrose that rekindled my desire to get cranking.  The money quote is in BLUE:

It's the birthday of best-selling historian Stephen Ambrose (books by this author), born in Lovington, Illinois (1936). Ambrose's father was a Navy doctor during World War II, and the family followed him from post to post around the country until he was shipped overseas. The war ended, Ambrose's father came home and took up a private practice in Wisconsin, and Ambrose decided he'd take over when he grew up.
A pre-med student, he was annoyed when his state university requirements compelled him to take an American history class the second semester of his sophomore year. It was called, "Representative Americans," and was based on biographies of individuals throughout the country's history; the first class focused on George Washington. The professor said that the students would be completing their own biography of an unknown Wisconsinite, which they would have to use primary research from the state historical society to write. The result, the professor promised, would add to the sum of the world's knowledge.
"And that just hit me like a sledgehammer," Ambrose later said. "It had never before occurred to me that I could add to the sum of the world's knowledge." He changed his major to history, and at the end of the term wrote a 10-page biography of a Civil War-era one-term Wisconsin Congressman named Charles Billinghurst. Ambrose marveled that he was now the world's leading expert on Charles Billinghurst. "Now what I soon learned was, the reason for that was that nobody else cared about Charles A. Billinghurst," Ambrose laughed. But his next epiphany was what transformed him from a historian to a world-class storyteller: "But I can make 'em care if I tell the story right."

The connection is Ultrarunning is about connections.  See, doing history establishes connections to the past--it's not distant history but a connected thread that leads to the present day.

Same thing is true of Ultrarunning: there's a connectedness that comes from participating in an activity that is as old as mankind.  Our ancestors ran to survive; we run to stay healthy and to somehow stay connected with that ancestral pattern. 

When I run I am acutely aware of primeval forces, of doing something now in play that formerly was deadly serious, of recreating actions that are part of our psyches and genetics.  I feel connected.

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