Recently I was asked the question of when did I realize I wanted to study history. I thought about the question for a time. My first thought was I realized in my second year of community college. At the time I was a psychology major and instead of getting the most out of my psychology courses, I was more drawn to my humanities and history classes. So, I switched to History. But I do not think that is when I realized I wanted to study history. I think I knew very early in life, but was not necessarily fully aware of my want to study history. But it is ironic that I was asked this question in the last few days, as the answer to this question sunk 105 years ago today.
Prior to the 1997 blockbuster hit Titanic, I remember seeing bits and pieces about the famous shipwreck on the news. Between 1987 and 1996, thousands of items from the wreckage were recovered. The stories centered on these excavations, more specifically on the debates that ensued. The main questions were: Was taking items from the site of Titanic’s final resting place, the resting place of so many lives, grave robbing? Or, was recovering the items a way of preserving history? My young mind was perplexed by this debate to say the least. I think on some level I was too young to grasp the debate fully, but I was really enthralled by it, especially by how much people cared about something that happened, at the time, 70+ years ago.
After the film came out in 1997, the artifacts from the wreck were organized into a traveling exhibit, “Titanic: The Experience.” Living in New Jersey at the time, I saw the exhibit in 1999 when it was at the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City. It really was, as the exhibit was called, an experience. There was something very powerful about it- even at such a young age I felt it. What I remember most from walking through the expansive exhibit was the intense fascination I had with the individual stories behind the physical artifacts. One item I remember from the exhibit was a name bracelet that said “Amy.” Having been nearly twenty years since being in the exhibit, I do not recall what the signs read word for word, but I do recall that the bracelet’s owner was not positively identified. There were some on board the ship that had names that could be linked to the nickname Amy, or there were some passengers with the middle name Amy, but there was not a confirmation of which passenger the bracelet belonged to. I cannot say whether or not the bracelet’s owner has been identified in the last twenty or so years, but that bracelet was such a source of intrigue. It was not so much the physical bracelet itself that I was captured by, but the fact that it belonged to a person. A living, breathing person. One who may or may not have lived or died on April 14th, 1912.
I wanted to know more after I left the exhibit. Mind you, the Internet was not what it is like today, so learning about the ship and the people on it that way was somewhat limiting, at least for a small kid between the ages of 6 and 8. So, my main source of knowledge was books. And let me tell you, I read a lot of books about that ship and the people on it. But circling back to the question: when did I realize I wanted to study history? I cannot say that I knew between the ages of 6 and 8 (and beyond) that when “I grew up” I wanted to study history; but I would argue I was certainly influenced at that young age by the debate, by the exhibit, by the books- and that influence, along with other factors, put me on a metaphorical road to knowing that I wanted to study history.
(Featured Photograph Credit: Click Here)