Today’s Historians

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

***

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome to season three of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about the role historians play in whose stories we are hearing and which people we are seeing.

I love to study history. It was always one of my favorite subjects in school. As I look back now, though, on the things about history I was taught in school, I see that my education was missing quite a bit of information. Now, I know it’s true that teachers only have a certain amount of time each year to teach each subject. There’s no way to cover any era in history with much depth at all. History teachers are wonderful, and they do a great job writing out lesson plans and bringing those lessons to life for their students.

There’s so much the rest of us can do outside of the classroom, though, to make sure that we are still being life-long learners and reading about our past…uncovering truths that may have been buried for generations. Gerda Lerner, the historian who pioneered the field of women’s history, had a valid point when she said, “In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist.”  It’s time to look to see the people from the past that still have something to teach us about the present.

I am thankful that we are in a time of reclaiming more stories from the past and correcting some of that stories that were based more on myth than on truth. I know that there are so many more stories I need to hear. This podcast talks about hearing the stories of those around us. The past two seasons have discussed leaders and organizations that are telling the stories of people whose voices aren’t always heard. We need community leaders and nonprofit groups to walk with people who are journeying on a path that others of us may not have walked along. We need to take a closer look at the work being done to bring hope and healing and love to all people in our communities.

Today I’m focusing on historians, however, because they are working to help us remember the people who walked these paths before we did. They are uncovering stories of people that have brought hope and healing and innovative ideas to our communities in the past and paved the way for us to do so today. Historians are reminding us that people can make a difference and bring about so much good in the world. These stories being brought to light by today’s historians help me better understand the stories of the people around me…the diverse people who make up my community—my local community and my global community. They weave all of us together through a foundation of hope and courage and perseverance that we may have never known we shared.

So, who are some of today’s historians that are teaching us so much through the stories they are unearthing and reviving for us? First, I want to talk about two of my favorite podcasters: Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey. Some of you may recognize these names; they are the cohosts of the popular podcast titled Stuff You Missed in History Class. This is a twice-weekly podcast that takes a look at historical figures with new perspectives. The co-hosts don’t just give us a quick glance at the life of a politician, inventor, writer, or other known personality. They dig much deeper to let us know what happened behind the scenes and often out of the public eye. They share old family letters and memoirs written by known friends. They dig deep into the works of other historians and researchers. They do a good job of telling us what information is probably just a gossipy rumor and what might be a fact. We get past the myths and find out what motivated people and what hurts they overcame to achieve their goals. We also find out who really should get credit for work that we attributed to another person. Their podcasts make history fun for me. They cover every topic from fashion design to medicine to shipwrecks. Listen and find out what you missed in history class.

I’ve also recently found a website that has been fun to explore. Indigenous Mexico is a website that shares the research of John P. Schmal. Schmal is a historian and genealogist who specializes in the genealogical research and Indigenous history of many of the Mexican states. He has written several books on the topic and has served on the board of the Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research. Through Schmal’s research, we come to understand the stories that form the foundation for each Mexican state. When we understand the past, we can see the present with new eyes.

Why am I interested in all of this history? Well, can you imagine if a person who knew nothing about you or your past tried to understand your life and make decisions that affected you without knowing anything at all? A doctor needs your medical history to treat you. A counselor needs your history to help find a healing path for you if you are struggling with grief or stress. A psychologist or psychiatrist needs to know in-depth details about your life to properly diagnosis you. A spiritual mentor understands you better once you have talked about your past spiritual journey. Our past has helped shape us and has brought us to our present place on our journey. Our past doesn’t define us or limit our possibilities. We can all overcome quite a lot from our past once we acknowledge it and learn from it. That’s no different from a nation or a cultural group. Past challenges have altered the journey for some people. If we understand that, we can come to see the strengths that people have leaned on to face those challenges. We can see the courage and determination in people. We can see the gifts that all people bring to the table.

Here’s another historian’s name that I’m going to toss out: Clara Sue Kidwell. Kidwell is an academic scholar, historian, and Native American author who is of White Earth Chippewa and Choctaw descent. Kidwell has been instrumental in developing American Indian historical studies programs. She has taught at Haskell Indian Nations University, University of California at Berkeley, Dartmouth College, and University of Oklahoma. In 2007, she started the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina. She is credited with increasing the visibility of Native American history on college campuses and across our nation. Historians like Kidwell fill in the gaps of our understanding and dispel myths that we often taught as truths.

I could toss out many other names in this podcast. Elizabeth Fenn researches the early American West, focusing on epidemic disease, Native American, and environmental history. Allan Berube, an American activist and historian, is best remembered for his groundbreaking work of gay history. He published an award-winning book in 1990 titled Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II. Marie-Josèphe Bonnet is a French specialist in the history of women, history of art, and history of lesbians. Bonnet has written several books and articles about the theme of art, women artists, and the representation of women in art. Vincent Gordon Harding, who passed away in 2014, was a social activist, historian, and a scholar of various topics with a focus on American religion and society. He was one of the chroniclers of the civil rights movement and was perhaps best known for his work with and writings about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Harding knew personally.

These historians, and many others who work in their field, know that we all still have so much to learn from the people who lived before us…people who dreamed and toiled and hoped and loved and fought. Historians bring the hopes and the visions of all who walked this earth before us back into the light so we can learn from their work and build on their dreams.

Your challenge for the week: learn about two people who are no longer living. Choose these two people from sources that you have never used before and choose from a group of people that are outside of your own identity. Be a life-long learner and expand who you have been learning about.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Podcast Episode: Learning from Old Friends

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

**

Learning from Old Friends

 

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about something that may sound really familiar to you. How many of you grew up watching Sesame Street or watched it with your grandchildren?

I can still remember parts of the theme song:

Sunny Day
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet…

That song is going to be stuck in your head now…I would sing it, but trust me, you don’t want to hear my singing voice. But as a kid, I sang along with all of their characters…Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie, and well, I’m not sure Oscar the Grouch did much singing.

Recently, I discovered something that many of you may have already known…Sesame Street is about much more than the television show. I’ve been following the work of Sesame Street in Communities. Their website—sesamestreetincommunities.org—builds upon their already strong commitment to addressing kids’ developmental, physical, and emotional needs.

In 1969, Sesame Street was created from the idea that early education played an important role in a successful future. The creators wanted all children—especially those living below the poverty line—to have access to early educational opportunities. Joan Ganz Cooney first created TV programming as a documentary producer for public television. As her career progressed, she began to think about television as a teaching medium. With this in mind, she founded the Children’s Television Workshop in 1968. Their first show was Sesame Street, followed in 1971 by The Electric Company. Just a little extra information: In 1989, Cooney received an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement and has been the recipient of countless other honors for her work.

Sesame Street was conceived in 1966 during dialogues between Joan Ganz Cooney and Carnegie Corporation vice president Lloyd Morrisett. They wanted to create a children’s television show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them,” such as helping young children prepare for school. After two years of research, the Children’s Television Workshop received a combined grant of $8 million from the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and the U.S. federal government to create and produce a new children’s television show.

Here’s a little bit more extra information that I learned about the show. Seems it started with a little controversy over a few things.

  1. Some critics didn’t like the name. They thought it was too hard for young children to say.
  2. Mississippi at first refused to air the show, citing its integrated cast, but then reversed the decision.
  3. Latinos and women complained about stereotyping.

And speaking of something else I didn’t know about the show…Jim Henson’s Muppets (and how can we talk about this show without mentioning them) were added to the “street scenes” of the show against the advice of educational advisers. The advisers thought that seeing the Muppets in the scenes throughout the neighborhood would be upsetting to kids. The characters originally could only be seen in their own segments of the show. I can’t imagine Sesame Street without Big Bird walking around with the kids. Of, and speaking of Big Bird…I didn’t know that the character won more than 100 Emmy awards.

We may think that Sesame Street has basically stayed the same since its debut on TV, but the show has evolved through the years, being more sensitive to the needs of its audience. For example, when childhood obesity became an increasingly difficult challenge to tackle in our nation, Cookie Monster declared on national television that cookies were only a “sometimes food.”

And the show producers were not afraid to talk about difficult issues that others may steer away from with kids. Childbirth, and child abuse, were among sensitive topics discussed, and that openness continued into episodes that related to the September 11th attacks and Hurricane Katrina. When Will Lee, who played the beloved store owner “Mr. Hooper,” died in 1982, his passing was talked about in an Emmy-winning episode. The show has also recently introduced the topic of homelessness to its viewers. Viewers also got to meet Julia, the first Sesame Street Muppet with autism

I think I have really taken Sesame Street for granted. But even if we all agree about how wonderful the show is, why am I talking about today as if something new is happening? Well, a few months ago, I saw a social media post about the Yellow Feather Fund. You can go to their website…yellowfeatherfund.org…and read more about this. The Sesame Street Yellow Feather Fund brings education to children in need—helping them grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

Here are a few examples from their website detailing the work of this fund:

*Twelve million children under the age of eight have had to leave their homes due to the Syrian conflict, and many have no access to the quality education that can set them on the path to a brighter future. Sesame Street is working with the International Rescue Committee to bring critical early education directly to young refugee children in the Syrian response region—and providing success strategies for their parents as well. Their loveable Muppets add so much joy to the lives of the children. Your donation to the Yellow Feather Fund helps them bring the laughter, learning, and hope to these children who desperately need it.

*Military families experience unique challenges like deployments, homecomings, relocations, and sometimes grief. For more than 12 years, Sesame Street has helped children and their families build resilience in times of separation and change. Working with military and child development advisors, they create books, videos, digital toolkits, and other free resources featuring the lovable little Elmo and friends. When you give to the Yellow Feather Fund, you help them build a virtual support network for the 700,000 young children with a parent in the service and help them develop success strategies for facing military milestones.

*One in 68 American children is diagnosed with autism, and nearly every family is affected in some way. Sesame Street helps children and families with the everyday challenges autism can present—through engaging, fun, (and free!) videos, books, and digital content in both English and Spanish. And they reach out to the public at large, promoting acceptance and understanding around autism spectrum disorder. Your gift to the Yellow Feather Fund enables them to research, create, and distribute materials used by educators, families, and service providers nationwide—and helps them spread the message that every child is unique, and every child is amazing.

You want to know something amazing…you can access a lot of their resources free of charge. And if you donate to the fund, you allow other families to have access to the resources.

I went to the Sesame Street in Communities website and found so many resources that I was not previously aware of. Through ongoing collaboration, training experiences, and local partnerships, this website continually adds content that meets the changing needs of our communities. As you scroll through the site, you can find hundreds of bilingual multi-media tools to help kids and families deepen their knowledge during the early years of birth through six (and this is a critical window for brain development). Their resources engage kids and adults in everyday moments and daily routines—from teaching early math and literacy concepts, to encouraging families to eat nutritious foods, to serious topics such as divorce and food insecurity.

They have resources for a wide range of issues that affect our communities: community violence, coping with incarceration of a family member, dealing with divorce, homelessness, preparing for emergencies, grieving, facing traumatic experiences, needing and giving comfort, and the need to learn to be resilient.

The website offers a section filled with information on staying mentally and physically healthy. Families have resource pages for learning to care and share, eating well, caring for children, explaining autism, playing together, building routines, bonding, managing asthma, handling tantrums, and many more topics.

The website also has educational resources for language development, financial education, science, reading and writing, and math skills.

These things I am mentioning aren’t just fun little games for kids to play. Each page is filled with professional and community resources for family members to explore. There are interactive pages, videos, and articles written by professionals to help us all be able to be life-long learners on issues that affect our families and our communities.

Now of course, there’s still the website for kids—sesamestreet.org—filled with fun and games for all ages. We can’t forget about that.

So, what’s our challenge for the week. Consider donating to the Yellow Feather Fund to keep this material available for all members of our communities. But here’s a big challenge that will take a little time—explore the Sesame Street in Communities website and familiarize yourself with all of the resources there. You may run across something that will help you. But, also, if you know what’s there, you can pass this along to community members who may need this information. Know a young parent who isn’t familiar with milestones for the growth and development of a child? Know a parent of a toddler struggling with tantrums? Anyone in your community looking for information on eating healthier? dealing with asthma? explaining autism to a sibling?

This information is publicly available free of charge and is frequently updated as we learn more about various topics. Find out what’s there and share it with others.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.