Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A day to remember

Whether reading, writing, or viewing movies and TV programs, I never tire of exploring the past. I majored in history in college not because I wanted to teach history but rather because I wanted to learn more about it.

Though the past is past, it is never settled. It is subject to constant scrutiny, debate, and revision. And that, in my opinion, is what makes it interesting.

I thought about that this morning when I read an article about one of the most iconic historical events of all time: the sinking of the RMS Titanic. The ship that couldn't sink did just that 102 years ago today, spawning countless books, movies, and discussions that continue to this day.

There are seemingly fewer questions about how and why the Titanic went down than before its wreckage was discovered in 1985, but some questions remain. For example, in their work What Really Sank the Titanic: New Forensic Discoveries, authors Jennifer Hooper McCarty and Tim Foecke argue that weak rivets, not weak steel, doomed the luxury liner.

Even the forensics debates, of course, can't measure up to the human drama. The sinking remains a compelling story precisely because it offers so many lessons -- about public attitudes, class, culture, and the promise and limits of technology.

Some of the best takes on the tragedy can still be found in literature. I strongly recommend Walter Lord's 1955 classic, A Night to Remember, and newer books like Andrew Wilson's Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived, which was published last year.

As one who believes that history is often best appreciated in museums, I also recommend Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. I've seen the display twice and believe it is worth every cent. It is currently making the rounds in five U.S. cities.

As glimpses of the past go, it doesn't get better.

1 comment:

  1. I just watched a couple of PBS specials on the sinking. What amazes me is how certain groups of people just accepted what was coming, like the musicians who kept playing while the boat was sinking, knowing they weren't getting off. I'm afraid I couldn't be that noble.

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