I have written a lot about living in a small Virginia town filled with beautifully restored architecture, about how different it feels to live in an environment steeped with a sense of history versus the clean-swept feel of the more modern cities I’ve lived. There are rich stories that go along with each place here, the telling of which are supported by a local cultural emphasis on the importance of maintaining and sharing the beauty of what has been in order to nurture what is—our economy, our community, our individual lives.
In thinking about the importance of the stories as I have retooled my publicity and marketing business, I realized I have had a misperception about the role history really plays in our lives. The study of history has always seemed a factual, academic pursuit rather than a creative one to me, like accounting or record-keeping. Sure, artful presentation of history offers some creative outlet, but the content seems fixed by the rules of reporting. But when I read the following statement about memory and creativity describing a conference on body, memory, creativity and the art , my perception changed radically:
“Memory and creativity can be conceived as complementary dimensions of embodied perception and agency, where “memory” points to the acquired competencies of the body (the “I can”), both tacit and conscious, and creativity points to the contribution of embodied understanding and skills in carrying out artistic, intellectual and other tasks in original and interesting ways.” (Body, Memory and Creativity in the Arts)
Substitute history for memory in this concept and what you get is a new sense of how the past interfaces with creativity on a more collective level. By viewing history as the “acquired competencies” of a community or society, creativity exhibited by a group can be seen as an appreciation and understanding of our “stories” (what we are capable of) and a combined effort to stretch beyond capability to explore potential. By conceiving history and creativity as complementary dimensions, problem-solving and innovation become effortless as the group connects knowledge with experimentation to create new ways of being and doing.
I think I finally get the history connection. Our stories are not just important because they show us what we can do and help us avoid repeating mistakes. They are vital because they allow us to turn our dreams into reality.
Here’s acclaimed producer Ken Burns on history and creativity: