The average American does not know dates.
I was talking with a retired Literature professor about volunteering at the museum and learning how to hearth cook. I mentioned that we use recipes from the late 18th Century, and his response was to ask if we were making pemmican and other Native American meals. By 1770 (what I meant by the later 18th C.) there were very few Native Americans left in Downtown Portsmouth, there had been English settlers here for over 120 years.
The museum was hiring an outside group, dancers specifically, for some shows and the organizer was effusive about his wonderful costumes. First he said they were just like Currier and Ives, then he mentioned “A Christmas Carol” then went on to talk about “vintage dress”. I had to ask if he was talking 1840s when Currier and Ives started and when a Christmas Carol was first printed, or 1900s which is when Currier and Ives ended and what is usually considered vintage. He had no idea. When I got to see his costumes they actually were pretty good renditions of the 1860s Currier & Ives prints, it was just the concept of dates and names for separate eras that he had no interest in.
I gave a tour of the museum to a kid just out of college where he had majored in history. I mentioned that Ichabod Goodwin was governor of the state just at the beginning of the Civil War, but that we show his house how it looked in 1870. The kid asked if it was a colonial house.
Maybe it is just the way that I use dates and events, names of time periods versus names of styles. I like to think I’m not a bad history educator. It does say to me that when introducing some to a historical concept, giving a date: as set of numbers strung together to indicate a time in history, or giving an era whether it is Colonial or Victorian can be totally ineffective as a method of grounding your audience.
Here is a challenge to you all: How can you give your audience an anchor from which to understand you without using dates or era name?Read this entry on entry page