Reconnect With History Via Story Maps
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Someone once told me, all great stories begin with a journey or the phrase ‘one day I was walking when . . .’
Now, I admit having read great stories that began either way. However, I’ve learned what truly makes any story so compelling is the “why” factor. Why is a story important and why should I care?
Think back to your American history classes. What do you remember most, or better yet what interested you most? Whether you’re able to confidently or hesitantly answer this question, studies have shown less than 50% of Americans can accurately recall their nation’s history.
So, who or what is the blame? Truthfully, the answer remains uncertain. What matters most is a solution; specifically, something that will decrease our lack of knowledge and inattention. Thankfully, National Parks such as NTIR have already begun pushing for change by creating story maps.
What are story maps you may ask? Essentially, the maps are informative, multimedia guides used to educate audiences on any topic imaginable. Last week, I met with Lynn Mager and Carol Clark, NTIR cultural interpretation specialists, to begin planning our collaborative summer project—creating story maps that feature notable multicultural trail leaders.
We began by identifying the purpose of the project –why create story maps? Part of our inability to remember or learn historical information could simply be disinterest. So, creating digital maps featuring text, video, audio, and more grants the opportunity to innovatively publish alluring historical content. As in feature stories you can’t help but read over and over, that fill you with empathy, and are simply unforgettable.
(Above) Francisca Lopez Kimball -originally a Spain native, she eventually became a Santa Fe Trail traveler when she and her two brothers were sent to boarding school in the U.S.
Next, we decided what should be featured. As I’ve mentioned before, there are 400 years worth of Hispanic history along nine historic trails and one historic highway:
California National Historic Trail
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail
El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
Old Spanish National Historic Trail
Oregon National Historic Trail
Pony Express National Historic Trail
Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program
Santa Fe National Historic Trail
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
You may or may not remember learning about these trails at some point. Nonetheless, we are all connected to these famous paths through the tales of unsung heroes. I had the opportunity to learn about many of these heroes Thursday at the Santa Fe Travelers and Their Descendants Conference. Three centuries worth of history was shared. What I remember the most, and doubt I’ll ever forget, is the story of Francisca along the frontier.
Reverend C.E. Becknell (left), ancestor to Santa Fe Trail founder William Becknell.
I had the opportunity to read one of Kimball’s childhood letters she wrote to her father in Spain. In that letter she wrote, “it is with great pleasure that I write to you,” and also expresses her excitement for school and difficulty being away from her only living parent. Though her father passed away before during her adolescent years, she still finished her education.
Dr. Charles E. Becknell, ancestor to Santa Fe Trail founder William Becknell, shared his reflection on what his racially forbidden ancestry that dates back to pre-civil war era. He also shared his experiences growing up as a Black male in a segregated era. Today, he proudly shares his Becknell lineage as well his accomplishments of writing two books and continuing his family legacy of being a reverend. Hearing these stories made me realize that simply speaking about multicultural trail goers like Kimball and Becknell is one way to give accurate and rightfully deserved historical credibility.
So, how will this project ultimately reconnect Americans to their historic roots? Over the years, many of us have learned and cited historical misinformation (heck, we even debated the validity of few historical federal holidays). So, why not make things accurate? Our country’s founders, overall, were not just anglo. Our history is diverse, and we must pay tribute to that. Highlighting these historical figures can close the gap of misinformation and give underrepresented populations a voice in American history.