Wednesday, November 18, 2015

7 Questions With Amy French, The Roaming Historian

Amy French holds a Ph.D. in history. She is a tenured history professor and owner of Roaming Historian (a company offering travel and historian services). When she's not in the classroom, she and her husband enjoy traveling the world's most treasured sites, cities, and cultures. As the Roaming Historian she encourages others to explore the past with her one place at a time.

1.   How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
When I was almost four years of age, my parents took me to see the Egyptian exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum. I was mesmerized by the artifacts, but the piece that fascinated me the most was a mummified cat. I immediately pelted my parents with questions about it. Why was it mummified? Was it their pet? Did they worship it? My parents encouraged my curiosity by purchasing a subscription to an archaeological journal (they didn't have a lot of stuff for kids back then), which I devoured monthly. They continued to take me to museums and center our family vacations around historical sites, so I have my parents to thank for cultivating my life-long love of history.

2.  What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
The past seems to command my present. I'm always looking to explore historical sites or sift through archives. I like to think that I live in the moment, but whose moment I live in is a different story.

3.   How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I'm a history professor so history plays a huge part of my career. My husband and I also own a company, Roaming Historian, which allows me to share my passion for history with a broader audience than my college's student body. As the Roaming Historian, I encourage others to integrate history into their travels. I help travel destinations promote their history to travelers and offer other travel services, as well as history services (research, consulting, speaking engagements, etc.). I am incredibly fortunate that I have two positions, which I love, that let me share my passion for history with others!

4.   Why is studying/knowing history important?
Besides the fact that it is just the coolest subject on Earth? Studying history opens up a world of possibilities and inspires us to be great (or not to make the same mistakes as others). Through learning the past we build an appreciation of other cultures and become engaged, global citizens. I love having a complex, diverse past to explore, and studying history continually sharpens my abilities to think critically and analytically.

5.   What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
It is difficult to choose just one era, but an aspect that I greatly enjoy is labor history, especially that of women. Coming from a working-class background, I was the first in my immediate family to go to college. My grandmother had a scholarship, but her father wouldn't let her accept it because she was a woman. I identify with the history of laborers and want to tell the story of people who are like me.

6.   How and why did you get to be the Roaming Historian?
Initially, I started writing about my travels for my friends, family, and students. As an avid watcher of travel shows and reader of travel articles, I noticed that a lot of them included history or were about historical sites. Since these were popular shows and magazines, I saw an opportunity to share my passion and expertise with a broader audience—so I became the Roaming Historian. As the Roaming Historian, I offer travelers ideas and opinions from a professional historian; I'm also able to offer my professional services in a variety of other ways.

7.   What are some of your greatest memories of trips you’ve taken as the Roaming Historian? 
Rome is the city where I connect to its past most deeply, but Athens is a close second. As I wandered down Rome's cobblestone streets, my spirit felt at peace. It felt like I was home. I love Rome's culture: its food, historical sites, joie de vivre, and respect for heritage. Athens is another great city where I have wonderful memories. Climbing the Acropolis and gazing upon the Parthenon gave me chills. I couldn't believe that I was visiting the birthplace of democracy, and that I was standing where noted scholars may have once stood. Both are fantastic cities! Ephesus, Turkey is another great memory. To wander through a huge archaeological site fulfilled my childhood dreams and made me realize that my life had come full circle. I still have the same insatiable curiosity for the past that I did when I was a child. Thankfully, my professional and personal lives allow me to live my dreams daily.

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!