Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/647

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

HISTORY AND THE CENTENNIAL.

THERE are symptoms of a revival of the study of history, or of a new impulse to it, as a consequence of the fact that the life of the nation has reached a round hundred years. Histories of the United States are in special order, and histories of the world for common schools are copiously forth-coming. The importance of history is, of course, a foregone conclusion; and the triple importance of the history of one's own country goes for self-evident. This is the wrong year to disturb political superstitions, and we are not going to question the great necessity of reading more about the doings of politicians for the last hundred years than past facilities have made practicable. But we may suggest that it is not an unsuitable time to widen and liberalize somewhat our notions of what history properly is, or should be. That it has hitherto dealt mainly with the superficies of human affairs, with conspicuous surface effects, and with the sayings and doings of men who have been skillful in the art of keeping themselves in the focus of public observation, has come to be a truism. And, when a history of the United States is announced, it is well enough understood that we are to have a new shaking-up of the old materials, with new pictures, but with the usual account of Indians, constitution-making, political administrations, and the wars in which the country has been engaged.

But is not our impending Centennial celebration in Philadelphia calculated to impress upon us the historic interest of quite a different class of things? No doubt there will be collected and placed on show numerous relics and curiosities of purely national import; but these will not constitute the staple attractions of the exhibition. Its supreme interest will consist in the array of products which will be there gathered of the art, science, invention, and skill, of the world. It is these that have been appealed to, to signalize and make memorable the hundredth year of our separate national life. This is the realization of an idea which could hardly have entered into the dreams of the men who figured as "founders of the republic." Their notion of "celebrating" our "Independence" for all time, consisted in making a prodigious noise, by ringing bells, and exploding gunpowder. But now we celebrate this event on a grand scale, by invoking the cooperation of the civilized world in the competitive display of industrial resources, constructions, fabrics, and works of use and beauty, distributed through a hundred departments of classified variety. And, of these multitudinous results of man's inventive and constructive faculty, the great mass will be the products of the past century's experience and progress, of which hardly the germs existed when we set up in politics for ourselves. And they will not be the results of administrative policy or forms of government. In a large sense they will not belong to any nation, but to civilization and humanity. They will be, to no small degree, the achievements of enterprise which politicians of all countries have done their best to hinder and defeat. It is the triumph of our time, that the forces that have brought such vast and benign consequences have overcome all resistance. They represent the growth and power of the pacific and constructive agencies of modern society—the headway that has been made against the political barbarisms of the past. The chief display at the Centennial will symbolize the silent revolutions