Vestiges of history: the invisibility of the past in the everyday

I’ve been discussing a research project with a colleague who is an historian. She’s trying to find the right ‘hook’ to demonstrate the importance of a locally (regionally) prominent figure in history and wants to find a way to articulate it in a ‘new media-ish’ kind of way. Let’s face it, new media gets more money from granting agencies than ‘general history’ these days so who can blame her. 

While we were discussing her idea I asked her if she’d considered demonstrating how this historical figure is in/visibly present in the contemporary geography of this place. By that I meant that it was interesting how many things were named after him and how he intersected so much of this region’s development.

This got me to thinking about the invisibility of history that comes from its everyday induction in a society. What was once a tribute – naming a street or landmark after someone – becomes an everyday and uncritical/invisible thing many generations removed from its point of origin. In the case of my colleague, the person who she described was fantastically well articulated in the development of virtually all aspects of this region and I only had heard of him by way of hearing his name as a street name or the name of an organization. He was honoured and invisible at the same time.

All around you there are these visible but invisible vestiges of history, stories known but to a few, but implicated in our daily lives. If you can think of any, send me an email with the story (and a photo if you can grab one) and I’ll post it. 

I have a photo of my own to post but I haven’t quite figured out how to get it yet. It’s of a 2 story tall gnome that sits on the side of the highway at a gas station. I never quite understood why it was there until last week when I finally asked – and received the rehearsed answer from the station attendant. I’ll post the story when I find a safe place to stop and take the picture.