Monday, February 17, 2014

Thinking About Historic Preservation

Recently, I have been thinking quite a bit about the importance of history in our daily lives. As alternate historians, many of us enjoy toying with history to make different outcomes and to see just how different our world could have been. Although this is fun to do, it makes one think about just how important it is. Changing one little thing from a century ago could have made today significantly different than it is, for better or worse. It is important that everybody has a solid understanding of history so that they understand the lessons that it teaches us and so that we may not repeat the same mistakes our ancestors made.

I have been a long time attendee of the Colorado Preserve America Youth Summit, which is a program where middle and high school students go to different places across the state of Colorado in order to learn about local histories and give our insight as youth to local people invested in historic preservation of that area. Being in this program is what kindled my interest in history, and by an extension alternate history.

A historic farmhouse, located between Lyons and Boulder, which was severely affected by the flood
A historic farmhouse, located between Lyons and Boulder, which was severely affected by the flood

As a part of this program, I toured historic sites that were damaged by the massive floods that struck Boulder County last September. One story that was fascinating was about a small farmhouse, initially built in the late 1800's, that was reflective of Colorado's origin from small family farms along the Front Range. An addition was added in the 1930's turning it into an inn, which was reflective of the massive economic pressure the Great Depression put on people across the US to stay afloat. The most recent addition came courtesy of mother nature: the St.Vrain overflowed its banks, and the torrents of water carved out massive ravines around the farm, displacing it from its initial site. Now the farmhouse sits, still intact, but broken and isolated in the middle of one of these ravines. These floods have had a tremendous impact on Colorado, and the flood can teach us many lessons about how to not face the mistakes of our ancestors again. I know that I only truly understood the awesome power of the flood waters once I saw how radically it transformed the landscape.

However, there are plans in place to fill back part of the ravine so that land can be rented to a farmer for his cattle to graze upon. I think that this situation poses some important questions, and ones that cannot be ignored. Is the ravine as much of this place's history as the farmhouse? Does it convey the full impact that the floods had if only a small portion of what they did is left to see? Is this the way to balance progress with preservation? I know that I want to preserve history because it makes people understand what their ancestors did, and it makes us better able to make better decisions if we learn from our past good and bad alike.

A panoramic photo showing the changes in the city of Boulder over the course of the past 100 years
A panoramic photo showing the changes in the city of Boulder over the course of the past 100 years


In history, we must not glorify our past. Surely, our past has had many good things that were instrumental in allowing us to make great achievements, and history should be preserved in order to get people to appreciate how we got to be here today, but there are elements of our history which may be sad or unsavory, but those are just as important too. History teaches us important lessons that allow us to become better, and that is why those stories must be held in equal importance to the others. Time and time again, those who choose to ignore the lessons of history make the same brutal mistakes: Napoleon lost everything after he made the decision to invade with a war weary army into the heart of the brutal Russian winter, and over 100 years later Nazi Germany made the same decision to invade the USSR which was the ultimate turning point that lead to its downfall.

Many people feel a disconnect with history, claiming it to be merely the past and having no bearing on what we can do, but without our past we would not have a future. Without understanding the American Revolution, the circumstances surrounding the creation and ratification of the Constitution, or the circumstances that caused the World Wars, we have no basis for which to create a better future for mankind. I have taken my experiences as somewhat of a rallying call for my generation.

The breathtaking view of the Flatirons from the historic Chataqua trails in Boulder, Colorado
The breathtaking view of the Flatirons from the historic Chataqua trails in Boulder, Colorado

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