Brenda and I went to a book signing last week at the celebrated independent bookstore, Quail Ridge Books & Music. It was Lions of the West, which has apparently already received much acclaim, Raleigh’s News & Observer saying the author “..should be declared a national treasure.” ((BARNHILL, A. C. (2011, Oct 16). Morgan looks westward through eyes of history. News & Observer. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/gFw4V))
North Carolina born Robert Morgan, spent about 40 minutes of that evening reading from a simultaneously published book of poetry, stemming from his research for Lions of the West, but most of that time talking about the history of America’s westward growth.
Known as a “poet, novelist and short-story writer” ((Department of english at cornell university. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.arts.cornell.edu/english/people/?id=97)) and recipient of an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Cornell University English professor has written one other history, a similarly acclaimed biography of the nearly mythical American icon, Daniel Boone (Boone: A Biography). Lions of the West starts with Thomas Jefferson, and the Louisiana Purchase, which included
…all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River; most of North Dakota; nearly all of South Dakota; northeastern New Mexico; northern Texas; the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. ((Wikipedia contributors. (2011). Louisiana purchase. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Louisiana_Purchase&oldid=458992606))
The book ends with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which added all or part of,
..California (1850), Nevada (1864), Utah (1896), and Arizona (1912), as well as the whole of, depending upon interpretation, the entire State of Texas (1845) that then included part of Kansas (1861), Colorado (1876), Wyoming (1890), Oklahoma (1902), and New Mexico (1912). ((Wikipedia contributors. (2011). Treaty of guadalupe hidalgo. InWikipedia, The Free EncyclopediaWikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Treaty_of_Guadalupe_Hidalgo&oldid=459017384))
..and was negotiated by Nicholas Trist, Jefferson’s grandson, by mariage.
I found it interesting that a majority of people who came to hear the talk were at least as old as Brenda and I, most of them much older. This was a generation who grew up on westerns. But what became clear from this talk and much of the revisionist history that has emerged in recent years, is how little we know about this era that so defined a generation of youngsters.
And this brings me to the second thing I found interesting about Morgan’s talk. It was a compelling story that he delivered powerfully, eloquently, and certainly unhampered by the charms of his southern roots. But it wasn’t until a conversation with Brenda, during our drive home, that it occurred to me why his talk was so compelling. Brenda said that she liked the way Morgan wasn’t trying to sell the book, and I realized that it was his perspective. The story that he spun in his talk was about what he’d learned during his research.
One area he said that he dug into was Mexican history, written from that country’s viewpoint, by Mexican historians. Many of Morgan’s statements began with, “What surprised me was..” Among his surprises was that Mexico was supposed to have won that war. They were, according to European observers, far superior to the United States in almost every way. Another surprise was James K. Pope, the North Carolina born 11th president. The author now believes that Polk was one of America’s six greatest presidents. An especially unlikable man, Polk was the only president who accomplished everything he’d promised voters, including spending only one term in office. Another surprise was how many of the Indian wars actually involved Indian tribes as allies to the American “cavalry.”
But it was this angle that I think especially charmed me, that Morgan did not talk about what he knew. He spent a half hour talking about what he’d learned.
..and of course, this brings us around to one of my continuing themes, that learning, learning practices, the sharing of learning, and what you can building from your learning, are far more important today than even the very best practices of teaching.
“Here’s what I’ve learned,” I think, is a golden key for unlocking the learner-impulse in others.