I’ve been reading a lot of the coverage this week about President Ford. It has been extremely educational for me, since Gerald Ford falls into what I call my historical blind spot.
Almost everyone is familiar with the blind spot you suffer when you drive a car. Off to the right, and down to the back, there is a triangle that seems like it should be visible in your mirror – but it isn’t. Trucks & vans often have a worse blind spot than cars. It’s a fascinating thing – so obvious when you look at it on paper, but so hard to recognize when you are actually driving.
I think the same thing happens to people around history. Most people learn their history in two places: in primary & secondary school, and then throughout life as they are living it. For example, my most in depth course work in history was in high school when I took AP US History in the 11th grade (1990). Incredible depth and memorization of names, treaties, bills and events in the 18th & 19th centuries, all the way through about 1965. Once we got past Kennedy & Martin Luther King, all of a sudden, the textbooks turned to mush. A few days here and there of miniscule coverage of Vietnam, Watergate, and a couple of oil crises for good measure. Stagflation. Voodoo economics.
High school is also the time when I began following current events in some detail. I participated in policy debate on topics ranging from retirement savings, prison reform, nuclear proliferation and space exploration. I read several newspapers daily.
I’ve noticed since then, however, that I have a historical blind spot that dates from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s. Sorry, no memory of Ford or Carter, although technically I was alive at the time. I have some memory of the early 1980s, which has made it easier to fill in detail about the decade over time. (My favorite, of course, was re-watching the televised Reagan-Carter debate in 1980 on PBS. Although it was a landslide for Reagan, both in the debate and election, both seemed so much more coherent and direct than any modern debate I recall watching.)
Is this common? Do most people have a historical blind spot between the time that their in-school history material ran out, and before their personal experience began? As I read more about Gerald Ford’s Presidency, it feels strange that I know more about the 1930s than the 1970s.
Let me be clear, I certainly knew about Nixon’s pardon. But not the rich color around it. Not the detail I’ve been seeing the recent newspaper coverage. Actually, Wikipedia has been wonderful here as well. Their section on Gerald Ford is great, and the detail about the 1976 election is also great. I think I was missing a significant part of history here.
Anyway, I’m going to augment my reading list for 2007 with some more material on the 1970s. I think my approach to it has been too segmented (space policy, energy policy, monetary policy, etc) rather than a holistic view. I’ll likely start with some of the biographies that will be hitting the presses momentarily.