Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Is History?

Robert Lowenberg and Gayle Christison Gresham

On Monday, I opened the newspaper and saw that one of my high school history teachers, Robert Lowenberg, would be giving a program at Castle Rock on Wednesday. I knew I couldn’t miss this!
When I was a senior in 1983 at the Douglas County High School in Castle Rock, Colorado, I was selected to be in a small class called “What Is History” taught by Mr. Lowenberg. Mr. Lowenberg had a passion for preserving the historic structures in Castle Rock and recording their history. Mr. Lowenberg’s goals for the class were 1) to learn the skills and methods of an historian and 2) to do primary research, using written, physical and human resources within the community. Mr. Lowenberg spent the first five weeks exploring what history means and how we define it. Next, he divided the class into teams of two students and assigned each team a house in Castle Rock to research. Kathy Kirby and I were assigned the Memmen house, a small farm on the outskirts of Castle Rock (now surrounded by the town). Mr. Lowenberg drove us to the library, newspaper office, or courthouse each class period teaching us how to search old newspapers and census records, how to use grantee/grantor records for title searches, and how to interview the people who lived in the house and those who knew something about the house. Kathy and I discovered the house was once owned by John H. Craig, one of the founders of the town of Castle Rock. Two mayors of Castle Rock had also lived in the house.

Kathy and I wrote our term paper for the class and each included our impressions on “What Is History?” After attending Mr. Lowenberg’s program last night, I pulled out my old paper. How interesting to look back and see what I had learned and what I had to say about history. I used a quote by Carl L. Becker who said, “History is the memory of things said and done.” I wrote, “Memory is not always accurate even if it is written down.” That is something I really believe now! I also wrote, “Complications make the work hard, but they do not overpower the rewards.”

As to my expectations of how history and this class would affect my life, I wrote, “I believe I would like to be a historian, but it will probably just be a hobby. This class has been the best class I have ever had. I lived and breathed this class. It was so hard to come back from Castle Rock after reading about the people and town and try to concentrate on Chemistry [class]. I will always be able to use the skills I learned in this class. History is more than just the past to me now; it is the present.”

Twenty-five years have passed since I was in Mr. Lowenberg’s “What Is History?” class. I haven’t seen Mr. Lowenberg since I graduated from high school. Last night I introduced myself to him and he said, “Yes, I remember you!” I think that’s pretty good since there were over 400 students in my graduating class alone. I was happy to tell him I am still using the research skills and understanding of history I gained in his class.

Bob Lowenberg gave a presentation on “Getting To Know Castle Rock.” He also sold and signed copies of a book he put together in 1981 called Castle Rock: A Grass Roots History using the papers students wrote in his earlier classes.

It isn't often we have a chance to thank the person from the past who made a huge impact on our lives. I want to thank Mr. Lowenberg for his passion for history and for his joy in passing along what he had learned. That combination makes the best kind of teacher. And Mr. Lowenberg is one of the best. Thank you, Mr. Lowenberg.