It can be hard to find historical topics that capture the interest of audiences today.
Our goal this year in introducing a series of talks followed by facilitated conversations, was to provide adults the chance to interact with history by sharing their own perspectives on how the topic relates to life today. It was an experiment. We weren’t sure if enough people in the community were interested.
From the perspective of engagement with the topic, the most successful talk by far was our fourth lecture. Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D., professor of biology at Butler University, spoke on the historical context for Darwin’s theories on American society. Even before the lecture, I received emails and letters of protest.
Writers argued that Conner Prairie should not sponsor such a presentation because the inhabitants of 1836 Prairietown would not have accepted Darwin’s theories. Others felt that it was inappropriate for Conner Prairie to touch on a subject as controversial as Darwin. At the lecture, a heated debate followed. Bloggers commented afterward on the ideas expressed and points rebutted.
In the end, each side vented their views with passion but without ill effect. A terrific result!
Of course, I don’t relish causing Conner Prairie supporters anguish. But I do enjoy opening a historical topic that still touches people today.
For our next lecture Marcus Rediker, author of the award winning book, “The Slave Ship,” will explore the lives and roles of everyone connected to the African slave trade. His research makes clear how easily people objectified and lost compassion for others when money was involved. The topic unfortunately remains very relevant today. I invite all to hear Marcus on Sunday, November 8 at 4pm at Conner Prairie and join in what I hope will be a lively discussion.