Wednesday, November 4, 2015

7 Questions With Amanda Read, Co-Host of the History Author Show

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?

I think I loved history from the moment I could pay attention to stories. I grew up as an Army child, home educated and living abroad, who was curious about the behind-the-scenes of just about everything. Sometimes I felt like all the interesting things happened before I was born, and that I just missed out on the world's highlights. My imaginary games with my siblings often involved historical themes.
 2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
When my mother began reading aloud Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series to me when I was around 5 years old, I got excited about the notion of everyday experiences being meaningful history. After all, every bit of the past was once in the present! I started keeping a journal with attention to detail as if my writing might one day be meaningful, historical documentation. Naturally, I was partial to the written word. Sometimes I would make copies of letters I wrote to friends, and saved every letter I received (even the envelopes so I'd remember what postage looked like over the years, apparently). To this day I have a habit of not wanting to delete e-mail correspondence, because after my research experiences I think of how frustrating it is to only find fragments of letters and notebooks through which to understand life in previous eras. Ha!

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in history and am working on a biography of USDA Chief Chemist Harvey Wiley (1844-1930), a project that started out as a screenplay. It's a story that tells of the classic tension between science and politics, and the origins of America's large federal bureaucracy, with a chemist and suffragette's romance throughout. My dream is to create historical drama films, bringing lesser known stories of the past to life on the screen for modern audiences. There's a special place in my heart for the Biblical epic, always yearning to give people a better understanding of the ancient world. But even in my freelance writing and journalism, history never ceases to play a role. When I report on a current event, I like to consider not only "what is the story?", but "what is the backstory?" What happened explains so much of what is happening. 

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
History gives us the opportunity to learn from the life experiences of entire generations. As a relatively young country in the grand scheme of things, the United States of America in particular has a deep well of knowledge in other countries' histories from which to draw when it comes to government, and therefore (in my humble opinion) has less excuses for error! I think studying history also helps keep current events in perspective. Whenever I get irritated by a glitch in a contemporary convenience (like weak internet connection), I have to remind myself how people had to wait on communication across long distances for so many ages! We need to be grateful for the innovative work that some people pioneered generations before us. We have so much more time for leisure than most of them did, but we aren't always using it as productively as they might have dreamed.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
That's always a tough question for me, because I have such eclectic interests. But I keep coming back to the 17th-18th centuries, known for being the age of reason, enlightenment, and revolution (but having a lot of human folly mixed in there too). Perhaps I can blame this interest on the biographies of Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal that I read when I was 9 years old. I particularly like studying what I call the "genealogy of ideas," discovering how many policies and cultural practices today are rooted in the thoughts of philosophers and other intellectuals that go back many generations. The enlightenments are naturally a big part of that study.

6. What is the premise of the History Author Show?
I once wrote (much to a history professor's appreciation) that the story of history, in a way, is a story of the historians themselves. Whenever you read about people of the past, you're reading not only about the characters within the events, but the interpretation by the characters who are recording and analyzing the events. The History Author Show interviews those characters who research and write history today - or as our host Dean Karayanis says, "we bring you the people who build the time machines."

7. What can listeners expect to hear in your shows?

Expect to hear deep conversation, laughter, vintage music, and some talented voice over artists bringing history to life!

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