My daughter, Baby Girl, says to me “Want to see the comic book I made? It tells the story of how Christopher Columbus found America!” As she site me down at the kitchen table, excitement is bursting from about her face. I put away what I was working on. I already know my real work is about to start. Columbus finding America is like me buying a used car. Sure it’s a great find, but that doesn’t me the first to have it.

Here and there I have been listening to her in her 4th grade, online class since being in quarantine. I hear them talk about a lot. I missed what was covered about Christopher Columbus ‘finding’ America. I hear her version, and fear that she may have missed parts as well. The short version of her story:

  • Columbus – Is it OK if we stay here?
  • Native American – If you Promise to be nice and follow the rules
  • Columbus – OK.

As an adult, I know there are major pieces missing form the story. And to be fair, 9 yr old kids are iffy, at best, about remembering all the important info that teachers tell them on any given day. The conversation reminded me of a fact that I think about from time to time. It’s not until most people are adults that they hear other versions of Columbus arriving in America. For me, that really actuated the importance of historical storytelling

The definition as I understand it

Looking for a definition for historical storytelling wasn’t as easy as the other types I’ve talked about so far. There is probably a book that perfectly explains what it is, I just didn’t find it in time for this post. So, I used YouTube. Besides, anytime you get to hear Sheila Arnold, Darci Tucker, Caroliese Frick Reed, and Brian Ellis define a storytelling and tell stories at the same time, that is the best experience (see link below from Story Crossroads). In its simplest terms, historical storytelling is oral storytelling that interweaves history into the narrative. It puts events of history into the perspective of an individual. That individual may or may not be real. The part that really got me is the phrase that Sheila Arnold said; “doing the stories of the unrepresented”.

What is all means to me

The understanding of Columbus getting to America has facts in the. The year he arrived. The ship he took. Who financed his trip. But it’s typically told from one person’s perspective. There were a lot of people on the ships he took. There were a lot of native Americans he came in contact with. How did they see this event play out? Getting their perspective gets insights that can be easily missed hearing the one version of Columbus arriving. That’s the danger of not hearing stories of others from the event. Parts perspective and understanding get missed, then erased. 

Let’s be clear, I do not think Baby Girl’s teacher is out to support one particular agenda. As a matter of fact, I commend her on the times she introduced topics such as George Floyd’s death and the US election into the classroom. And for all I know, the teacher delivered the lesson plan just as it was intended to be delivered. What baby girl’s explanation about Columbus reminds me of is my role as a parent. To help give wisdom to knowledge, understanding to facts, and perspective to the stories. So as you get ready to give thanks this holiday season, remember that different people have different perspectives of how things were, and what they will become. They have different stories. And their stories should be told on purpose.


The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities

Native American Oral Storytelling and History

Video web content titled: The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities

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