Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Humorous History, Introduction

By Kristin

[Ed: With this post we introduce the newest Hadleyblogger, Kristin Barbieri. A longtime reader and behind-the-scenes contributor, Kristin has now stepped out front and center to join the rest of us with her unique take on life, the universe and everything. We're sure you'll enjoy her words as much as you have the rest of ours.]

We take our history seriously. Why not? Many events in our past are very serious: The Cuban Missile Crisis, Hiroshima, Dred Scott. As history is studied and scrutinized, the events that shape our world are identified, categorized and debated with gravity. With any great biography, however, it is in the details, namely the funny ones, which make a good story great. These humorous happenings provide a connection to our past that reminds that history is not a boring bunch of facts, yet it is alive and interesting, as our present is. As we take a trip down memory lane and read the biography of our history, let’s take a moment to study our humorous history, because as we all know, if you can’t laugh at our history, whose can we laugh at?

First, we must find those events which we find funny. One that pops into mind is a curious fact written by Larry Gonnick in The Cartoon History of the United States. * Gonnick provides a brief note about Abraham Lincoln that put a smile on my face: Abraham Lincoln was an accomplished wrestler. After letting this idea marinate for a few moments, the thought of a tall, skinny, well spoken man engaging in an activity we now associate with makeup and bad acting, became funny. I giggled. The thought developed. What if the Civil War had been decided between Lincoln and Jefferson Davis with a brawl, Greco-Roman style.** What if our modern leaders settled disputes in the ring?

Here is our first, very brief, study on our Humorous History. The Civil War, serious. Lincoln wrestling, humorous. Over the next few weeks we will take silly events scattered in the footnotes of history and show that we need these to truly understand the complexity of characters and events that have shaped modern world.

* Although this is a “cartoon” history, this book is filled with seriously, unfunny facts, presented in a rather comical format.
* In the mythic Greco-Roman tradition, armies would send their best fighters/generals to fight a solo battle to determine the outcome of the engagement, thus, limiting the loss of life and transforming men into gods.

The Cartoon History of the United States. Gonnick, Larry. Collins; Rev Sub edition (August 14, 1991

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