Librarian's Lobby
October 2002

by Daniel D. Stuhlman
Lessons of History

I frequently hear people tell me that they know nothing about history. Jay Leno in his "Jay Walking" segment recently asked passers-by questions about history. Several respondents, who claimed to be teachers, could not answer even basic questions such as, "Name one of the founding fathers" or "Who was president during the Civil War?" or "When was the War of 1812?" Granted Leno probably selected the most funny answers; it is sad to hear that some people know so little about their roots. At a discussion in the Sukkah one guest opined that she didn't know much about history, but further into the discussion she reveled that she did indeed know the principles history and how to check the facts that she did not know. She did not need to know all the people, places and dates.

We are all the result of the thoughts, events, and actions and preparation of those who came before us. In any study of history the noise needs to be separated from the essence. One problem with the systematic historical study is that one is not always sure of the how to separate the noise from the essence until much work has been done. The scholar could spend hours assembling information to find out that it didn't support his thesis or if it did the results warrant only a few words in the final paper. One is not sure of the effect of events on a process until a careful examination has taken place. For example: when analyzing the results of a political campaign many of the facts and events that led up to the election are the noise of history. However, some of the events and even a small quotation may be the stimulus of a seminal action. The lessons to be learned come after an analysis of the facts. History is a mosaic built on the ideas, plans, actions, and events of today.

Books, documents, and periodicals are frozen knowledge. Artifacts are the objects that were used to make history. A book can be both a container of knowledge and an artifact. For example an encyclopedia for this year automatically updates the previous year's edition. For most people the old encyclopedia has lost its value. For the historian the old encyclopedia is a window into the time of publication. The binding, paper, and other physical aspects make the old encyclopedia an artifact. Image learning about the Middle Ages from an encyclopedia written in that era. Libraries collect not only books, recordings and other trade publications they collect materials that can not be bought in any store. I found train schedules, theater programs, posters, maps, musical scores, theater scrips, realia and more items collected by libraries. For some people these items are noise; for others they are gold mines. By studying large numbers of train schedules, a scholar could find trends. By examining old city maps one could better understand how the city developed or how geography affected events.

We are all the results of history. We just celebrated the high holiday season. Each aspect of the holidays have a connection to several layers of history. We don't need the dates and time to be affected by history. Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world. We continue the celebration of creation by reading the story of creation in the Torah. Without this event there would be no history. This is the beginning of history. During the Torah readings for the holiday we connect to the story of Abraham and Isaac, the proto-generators of our people. We don't need to know the exact date and time of the story of the test of sacrifice, but we need to know the result. When we pray the Shemonah Esrei we refer to the God of our fathers, another connection to history.

On a more personal level we remember the holidays from the years before. We remember the family experiences. Holidays are triggers for memories. Did you discuss what the sukkah from your parents or grandparents was like? Do you remember eating a meal with your aunts, uncles and cousins? Then we have the Yizchor, when we are forced to remember loved ones who are no longer with us. In the public Yizchor, we remember those of community that are gone; in the private Yizchor we remember our relatives by name who are no longer with us.

History has both personal and universal implications. As a member of multiple communities, events and actions shape our everyday life. Deliberate planning in the form of laws, regulations, or any other written plans causes us to shape the future. Rosh Hashanah is a solemn time when the fate of individuals and nations is determined. It is the birthday of history. The lessons we learn from history are part of everything we do. The library stores the documents for analysis; the individual integrates both liminal and subliminal understanding of history.

Stories are one way that we share history. We tell each other stories about our experiences. We edit and retell the events that make us who we are. Sharing of family stories helps us keep connected to a common bond. The telling of a story written by another can reveal a human truth, which non-fiction can not. Storytelling as part of an event or performance adds texture and sparkle. I have started a new service for schools, organizations and businesses called Stories by Stuhlman. To learn more visit our web page at: The site includes one minute audio sample stories.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit the web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at: Reach him via e-mail at:

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 ©2002 Last revised October 2, 2002