Discussion Questions

Chapter 1The author talks about various sources of passion and inspiration. President Kennedy’s quotations, in particular, reveal Kennedy’s fascination with the past. What inspires you to want to learn more about history?

Chapter 2Some topics in history, like slavery, are not easy to raise and discuss. Do you think museums and historic sites have an obligation to discuss these topics? How should a revenue-generating organization face the challenge that their audience may not be interested in a topic like slavery? Do you think the slave auction was a good idea?

Chapters 6 and 7The stories of the cotton gin and the Star-Spangled Banner reveal deeper layers to well-known American stories. What do they say about the research process?

Chapter 7The Star-Spangled Banner story could be written from five different perspectives based on the five people featured: Vice Admiral Cochrane’s story, for example. Why is it important for historians to consider multiple perspectives when telling a story?

Chapter 9Is there is historic house or neighborhood you have visited that is particularly memorable? Why? What characteristics stay in your mind?  What research, if any, have you done about the history of the place you live?

Chapter 10The author describes his fascination with Lemhi Pass and the profound impact place can have on imagination and the past.  Is there a particular historical place that has inspired your imagination? Describe it.

Chapter 11Who owns history? The author quotes historian Eric Foner: “Who owns history? Everyone and no one.” What does Foner mean by this question, and how would you answer it? Who has a right to tell what story?

Chapter 11The historical evidence for Sacagawea is scarce.  Does this surprise you? Why do you think her story has captured people’s imagination?

Chapter 11The author talks about conflicting perspectives regarding the role of oral tradition in the research process. Do you think oral and written evidence hold the same value or are you suspicious of bias in one or the other?

Chapter 12What does the corn mill story tell about cultural misunderstanding?

Chapter 12The author questions what interpretation a tercentennial commemoration of the Lewis and Clark expedition might take. Why do you think many people think the facts of history don’t change and are suspicious of new interpretations of history?

Chapter 14Have you ever considered churches or cemeteries as history sources? What do your local religious buildings and cemeteries say about your community?

Chapter 17Have you been to a living history site or a reenactment of some type? What did you think of your experience? Was the approach effective based on the author’s criteria for quality living history?

EpilogueWhy is history relevant? The author suggests that the past informs the future. Do you agree? Can you think of other reasons to study the past?