The Value of Studying History

The Old Well, UNC

So I’m here at the University of North Carolina, getting stuck into the archives and getting lots of work done. It’s been great. I will definitely write a post about all the different kinds of fun and interesting things that I’m doing but I came across an interesting quote the other day so I’m going to talk about that for now…


I’ve yet to meet a person who does not enjoy learning about some aspect of history. Although they may not necessarily want to study history, there’s usually some aspect of the the past which fascinates them. When I was teaching in a primary school, History was definitely one of my class’s favourite subjects and when I’d announce that we’d be doing History next, the whole class would erupt in a series of yesses. And that’s not an exaggeration! I was often surprised by their level of enthusiasm but it was great to be able to share my love of the subject with such an eager bunch of students. I wish third level students had the same level of enthusiasm!!!

Although learning about historical events is interesting, many people are unaware of how useful it can actually be. When I was conducting archival research at UNC, I came across an interesting quote that I believe best illustrates the value of history:

The past is the key of the present and the mirror of the future, therefore, let us adopt as a rule, to judge the future by the history of the past, and having key of past experience, let us open the door to present successes and future happiness.

These are the words of Robert G. Fitzgerald, a black American Civil War veteran, teacher of the former slaves and political activist, written on 26 July 1867. His diaries can be found in the Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina. You can find the link here.

This quote really struck me and it’s funny because Fitzgerald’s granddaughter actually used that same quote as the epigraph to her book Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, something I just found out.

So basically, through the study of history we can learn from the past to plan for the present and prepare for the future. And that’s why historians matter!!!! 🙂

Fulbright Gateway Orientation

Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

So this week I attended an orientation program at Kennesaw State University, Georgia, USA. It was an amazing few days! Approximately sixty Fulbrighters from forty-six different countries were in attendance (I need to double check those figures). The program was basically designed to familiarise non-US students and researchers with the American culture and system of education. Over the course of three, fairly intensive days, we engaged in workshops and seminars that examined American customs, values, politics and history. However, the value of the program extended far beyond the practical knowledge it imparted upon us students.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love learning about different cultures. And they will know that because I basically interrogate any non-national in Ireland about their home, their culture, their traditions and everything in between! I find it fascinating. This orientation program gave me the opportunity to learn about so many different countries, from Afghanistan to Ukraine. It allowed me to dispel some of the misconceptions I had about some countries while also making me more aware of the unique way of life in other countries. Although most Irish people enjoy having a few drinks, I hope I helped to dispel the notion that Ireland is a nation of alcoholics and leprechauns! 🙂

Fulbright’s aim is to promote cross-cultural understanding in an effort to reduce global conflict. And I believe that this orientation program, and others like it, go a long way towards achieving this aim. If we really are to be the leaders of our generation, as Fulbright hopes and expects us to be, I can safely say that there will not be any conflict between those of us who were in attendance this week. Although we did not always agree on certain matters, we were wise enough to accept each other’s differences and unique points of view.

We love our group shots! Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

We love our group shots! Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Never have I connected so well with a group of people. And I believe that most, if not all, of my fellow Fulbrighters feel the same. Every day I talked to someone new, or sat with a new group of people at meal times, and the conversation always flowed. On the first day of the program, one of the professors mentioned that while we were all intelligent people, we were not chosen to receive Fulbright awards on the basis of our academic merit alone. Rather, our unique interpersonal qualities played a huge factor in the selection process. And from what I could see, everyone in the group was kind, generous, positive, open minded, hardworking, determined, motivated, and, of course, immensely intelligent. We weren’t just a bunch of boring academics! We had fun, we were witty, we were funny, we cracked jokes, and we laughed. A lot!

Hopefully we all manage to stay in contact. I am so grateful to Fulbright for giving me this amazing opportunity and to my wonderful Fulbright family who have made this experience so amazing thus far.

Outside Martin Luther King Jnr.'s family home in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Outside Martin Luther King Jnr.’s family home in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo Credit: Tamer Samak

Now, it’s onto the next chapter!

Teambuilding!

Teambuilding! Photo Credit: Vanessa Sayajon

Day One in Atlanta, Georgia

Travel

Happy Monday!

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, I was so busy getting everything organised for this trip.

So I arrived in Atlanta, Georgia last night. I’m not gonna lie, it was tough leaving home. I was so sad saying goodbye to everyone, especially one person in particular. I was in Chicago and NYC for five weeks just a few months ago so it seemed like this trip came around really fast and I was off again before you knew it!

A beautiful view of NYC from Central Park West in May 2015.

A beautiful view of NYC from Central Park West in May 2015.

Anyway, homesickness aside, the first observation I made is that Atlanta is HOT! Yikes. And I’m not great with the heat. When you walk outside the hot air blasts you in the face. Like when you open the door of a really hot oven. I’m hoping I acclimatise!

The second observation I made is that it’s dark at 6am! One of my favourite things about Ireland during the summer is the bright mornings, regardless of the weather. I’m an early bird so waking up to a bright morning is a huge bonus for me. It’s pretty bright by 7am though and, to be honest, I probably won’t be getting up until that time anyway! 🙂

How beautiful is the view from my home in Ireland early in the morning? Granted these mornings are few and far between these days!

How beautiful is the view from my home in Ireland early in the morning? Granted these mornings are few and far between these days!

Today I begin my Fulbright Gateway Orientation program so I will keep you all updated on that over the coming days.

Bye for now!