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In his new book, The Ohio State University — An Illustrated History, story-teller Goerler paints the historical foundation of his university in a series of engaging segments that draw focus on a single issue, personality or event that proved pivotal in the life of the institution. What’s gone in Goerler’s storyline are the details of process that give historical writing a bad name. In it’s place, Goerler tells his reader what mattered, who mattered, and the issues that transcended details of process to become deterministic to the big picture elements of his story.
Robert W. Butche
We are largely a nation of no history. Not because we haven’t made a great deal of history, but because, as a nation, we so frequently go out of our way to avoid knowing much about it. 21st century America is largely about immediacy, gratification and comfort. We revel in knowing that nearly everything ever known, published or said is little more than a mouse click away. Whether or not what we choose to consume is factual, reliable, probative or relevant seems to make little difference today. This was not always the case.
I’m lucky to know someone who matters. Someone who stands for something far beyond his own self interest. I know Raimund E. Goerler, one of our nation’s most respected academics in historical collections and preservation. He is also one of the best historical story-tellers to come out of American higher education.
Ask Rai Goerler and he’ll tell you that writing history is largely a work of love. He should know for he spent the last decade writing and re-writing a history of his adopted academic home — Ohio State. His book, The Ohio State University — An Illustrated History, was published today by the Ohio State University Press. It is the most interesting and best told institutional history I have ever read.
If you’ve never read non-linear history, you’re in for a surprise. Goerler gets it right by making it readable and blending his narrative with hundreds of relevant images that give face to people and depth to events.
By Raimund E. Goerler
Fidelity-to-fact is essential — but no more so than relevance, credibility, or probity of what is published as responsible content. But recording history is only one side of a troubling reality confronting our nation today — for the ignorance of history, and it’s effective absence in modern day curricula at both the high school and college level, have confounded a nation threatened by its inability to separate beliefs from knowledge.
Some believe that our national disaffection for history is largely due to how it is taught. Look at most any history book, or text book and what stands out are not the important ideas or events that have shaped us as a culture or nation but the dates of those events. Fact is, traditional views of historic writing and teaching are timeline driven.
Dates matter in a timeline driven historical work. The names of important events, or personalities, or places are what we test students about — as if the order of events, or their specific time of occurrence or order were always and only what mattered.
History writers and academic historians find solace in the details, order of events, and mind numbing citations about sources, provenance and learned views proffered as the literature. What satisfies one’s academic mindset and what informs the reader, however, are usually very different.
There is a school of thought among historians that seeks to break free of the long standing tradition where history is offered up as factoids and events strung along a timeline absent relevance or context. Order of events is only one way to approach historical story telling.
Another, sometimes described as non-linear history, largely discards the order of events in favor of examining the importance of ideas, or outcomes that may only be ascertained decades or generations later.
For students, timeline history studies are not unlike reading a telephone directory — the facts are many, but absent context, plot or actors. For academic purposes there shall always be a place for timeline history — for factoids and events are the substance by which human endeavor is recorded.
Nearly a decade ago, when I read Raimund Goerler’s draft of the first chapter of his non-linear history of the Ohio State University, I was captivated with his handling of the events and personalities that undergirded the conceptualization and founding of one of the nation’s most successful and influential Land Grant universities.
What at first has the feel of traditional historical writing, gave Goerler’s first draft the look and feel of excellent scholarship. He is, after all, a true historian for whom provenance and historical fidelity-to-fact give purpose to his life’s work. Some will find Rai’s Ph.D in American history reassuring in the sense that he is by academic bearing and training a long-term reporter-editor instructed in his profession and governed by standards and practices whose purpose is to serve truth.
What Rai Goerler’s considerable professional qualifications do not reveal is that he is a master story-teller and compelling writer.
In his new book story-teller Goerler paints the historical foundation of his university in a series of engaging segments that draw focus on a single issue, personality, group or event that proved pivotal in the life of the institution. What’s gone in Goerler’s storyline are the minutiae of process that give historical writing a bad name. In it’s place, Goerler tells his reader what mattered, who mattered, and the issues that transcended process to become deterministic to the big picture elements of his story.
The result is stunning. Even for those with little knowledge of, or interest in the origins of the Ohio State University, Goerler’s book offers insight into the American experience from the end of the Civil War to the 21st century.
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