Quietly coming into the Lewes Historical Society’s main room where author James Kirchick was just starting to answer questions on his book, Secret City, The History of GAY Washington, the conversation and information that was bouncing around the room was amazing. Let’s consider the fact that when you are perusing the 2022 Lewes History Book Festival billing and you see this book, you might be offended, turned off, or instantly think “That’s not for me…”. This happens so often with so many instances (some to be shared today) that I do not think many people realize the fences they are building around themselves that are shutting off opportunities for learning.
Example, the details that were offered up by James Kirchick through is book as AMAZINGLY fascinating, and the vocabulary he researches and presents is beyond what any textbook could provide in history, BEYOND the subject of being Gay. Concepts such as The Lavender Scare … (seriously, have you ever heard of this? I NEVER EVER have heard of this and this is a moment in history that is – HISTORY- my thought on any topic is – whether you agree or disagree with any concept, you as an American an living in a democratic world, should exercise the right to be AWARE of any and all education and concept, because in some countries that right is not even on the table – having the RIGHT to know about a topic is not the same as having to agree about a topic).
…the rivalry between the CIA and FBI, the idea of how many moral panics have existed in history such as the Lavender Scare (Salem Witch Trials, Japanese Internment, McCarthyism, fake news vs what is real) and the actual lives ruined in greater number from some unsuspecting scares than others, and more delving into the governmental aspects of a citizen’s view, and blending the two. It was fabulous, unexpected, and engaging to the point of not being able to hear enough. A huge takeaway point is transferable across many ideas – despite the county you live in, in Delaware, despite preconceptions you might have of a word, location, town, the only way you learn and begin to drop the tendency to avoid all of those based on the preconceptions, is to dive in and then amazingly, unexpected treasures begin to appear, Such was the case with catching the pieces of James Kirchick’s book presentation, a gift not expected. But why was I coming to this reading area in the first place?
Thomas Elton Brown, Ph.D’s book, Where Menhaden Was King, seemed intriguing to me, Every year at the Lewes History Book Festival (the ONLY Festival in Delaware, and most states, devoted to History) brings an onslaught of topics that would intrigue lovers of information since 2015. Every year I choose one session without a doubt that I can add to my All Delaware section of my high school library. This one seemed to be the ticket, Where Menhaden Was King. Hailing from a position at the Archives, and accompanied and introduced by Trina Brown-Hicks, I was not disappointed.
One thing I have discovered from the authors willing to attend and present at the Lewes History Book Festival is the opportunity to have a perspective change, to the information that you are allowing as an individual to come before you. In talking with my cousin the other day, we were discussing the difference between adding more water to an existing fish aquarium, versus a direct water change and how minerals being added and added over time can change the density of the water and the quality of the water, and from the outset, many people would not see the difference. I saw the exact same thing happening in my observations of what happens at the Lewes History Festival. One can simply add and add information, but it is not the same as unpacking what you have gathered and added versus unloading some of that information and replenishing with new information, sounds the same, but it is not. You can walk away with a new way of looking at the areas you may have taken for granted or had preconceptions about since a young age. I would love to see individuals that have never attended the Lewes History Book Festival and see what they can add to the conversations as well- and if you allow it, geographic areas, populations of people, preconceptions about political, social, environmental topics can bring people together rather than pull people apart, despite agreeing or disagreeing. That is is beauty of the ideal of democracy (more on that later).
From inside the factory, to boats, to the impact of the Menhaden on the Lewes we know today, to equal rights, to the unknown stories that should be told about Lewes’ Otis Smith , I felt this was an exciting acquisition and addition to the History Book Festival. It was exciting to see the discussion, and seeing people attending that worked in fisheries from all locations and that have founds themselves here in Delaware. We are richer for the diversity that comes to Delaware and the knowledge we have through the fishing, water industries, and rediscovering beginnings of the first state. In essence, being a new board member of the Delaware Humanities allows me to see events, social interactions, and experiences in a different light as well, and allowing myself to consider the impacts of events and experiences on learning more and more. Having the profession of librarian allows me to organize how these experience are able to impact communities, as well as individuals and be able to be used to increasingly bring people together that previously have not been.
Back to that word Democracy as well, I have learned over the years the meaning many people attach to a word is not exactly the one single meaning of a word. Let’s look at what we have talked about so far – consider these words – Gay, Democracy, Librarian, Lewes, Kent County, Sussex County, New Castle County, chicken industry, Delaware, rural v urban, white collar, blue collar – just a few. ANY of those words I have heard 100 conversations about them, and heard so many different stances on those words, it is worth THAT being a book. And yet, some of the preconceptions tied to those words are often not middle of the word, but convincing to a person until – something strong enough comes along to allow a space for reconsidering how you see that word.
I would love to think, (as I currently do think, lol) the Lewes History Book Festival allows the space for people to see that words as exampled above, carry MANY different avenues of exploration and knowledge, and do not stand necessarily for a single path of thought according to one person. As a Delaware Humanities Board Member, as a Delaware Association for School Librarians member, as a Cross Country Coach, as a Certified English Educator and Librarian, as a citizen of the United States, I am grateful for being able to live in a Democratic country that allows me to discover events in history that individuals that have differing beliefs and lifestyles, that do live in differing counties, that DO different occupations, that DO believe in coming together to strengthen the state we live in. To me, that is Democracy if I was to take and isolate one of the many terms above, and there is still room to learn about Socialism, Communism, 100 different other -isms, but the bottom line is being a Delawarean, a true Delawarean, and even larger, a Democratic individual in the United States, is to be open to new experiences and have the ability to add more “water to the tank.” (non partisan please!)