Why History?

From Mr. Johnston's talks on living history for the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries, the International Museum Theater Alliance, and the Association of Living History Farms and Museums.

We humans are natural storytellers; this means that we are, by nature, historians. How so? Our earliest oral traditions—songs, spoken narratives, sagas, and chants—tell stories of things past. Our earliest scratches on cave walls tell stories. Our earliest dances use movement to tell stories. Our earliest religions and mythologies tell sacred and profane stories. A part of all these varied methods of storytelling shares a common purpose—to perpetuate and preserve that which came before, so that what once was alive for a family, tribe, peoples or culture remains living and remembered for those descendants who come after in time or distance. These stories, regardless at times of literal facts, are history—that living sense of the past that resonates within us as humans.

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American Legends: Benedict Arnold

Written by Ken Johnston for the Greenville Chautauqua's History Alive magazine in conjunction with his performance as Benedict Arnold.

In John Ford's classic 1962 Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Jimmy Stewart's character reveals to a newspaper reporter the surprising truth behind the legend of the event that launched him to fame and a career of public service—a revelation that is completely at variance with what the public accepts as fact. When Stewart realizes that the reporter is going with the legend over the fact, he asks him why. The reply? When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. It's a brilliant bit of dialogue, and an apt apotheosis for the way certain figures of American history are remembered, in particular the man we're taught to love to hate, the black-hearted villain in the creation myth of America's founding, Benedict Arnold.

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Surrender of Atlanta Sesquicentennial

The blog The Civil War Picket asked Ken Johnston to write a two paragraph reflection for the sesquicentennial of the surrender of Atlanta.

The surrender of Atlanta on September 2, 1864 can be (and has been) spoken of in terms of military, economic, or political significance—and rightly so on each count. The thing that stays with me, however, is the psychological significance. There had been major southern cities that were reclaimed by Federal authority before, but they tended to be cities where US military power was more easily projected along water ways by the US Army and Navy—places like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga (supplied along the Tennessee River). A southerner could take comfort, if so inclined, in the knowledge that Federal forces hadn't penetrated into the deep heartland of the southern states with boots on the ground. Atlanta changed that.

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From “Craic” to “Cracker”

This article was written by Ken Johnston for the Rural Florida Living History Museum – Cracker Country's newsletter Recollections of the Past and was a text used in Outreach Programming.

There are many stories as to why the peoples in the geographic region from the Georgia Piedmont down through the Florida Panhandle and Peninsula are called Cracker, most of them based on what is known as a folk etymology. Just as the terms folk music or folk tale describe something rising from the plain people, or ordinary folks, so folk etymology describes the way in which a particular group of people will derive an origin for a word in the local vocabulary that makes sense based on what they see around them. In the case of Cracker the two most common explanations for the name were from the cracking, instead of milling, of corn (Georgia), or the cracking of whips used to drive cattle (Florida). Folk etymologies such as these most often come about when the connection with the actual history or origin of a word has been lost or broken over time, and this is exactly what happened in the case of the word Cracker; for its use in describing a particular group of Southerners predates by two centuries the cracking of corn or whips.

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Civil War Navy Activity Book

Teacher resource and student study guide developed by Ken Johnston for the National Civil War Naval Museum. Civil War Navy Activity Book and Study Guide

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