On Saturday April 29, 2017, the third annual Gateway History Conference will bring another round of fascinating discussions about area history, but with something of a twist. Instead of focusing on the well-trod personalities and events that most area history fans are familiar with, the presentations this year will address the hidden, the forgotten, and the arcane.
With Gateway Arcana: Hidden History in the Iowa- Illinois Gateway the conference organizers (myself and Matt Parbs) hope to open up the ongoing historical narrative of our area to new interpretations and to help create the possibility for new narratives to emerge.
Arcana is typically defined as knowledge that is secret, hidden, or otherwise unavailable to the uninitiated. It has an almost mystical connotation, holding a historic link to medieval alchemists who sought to unlock the mysteries of nature through magic and scientific experimentation. The study of arcane history seeks to do something similar– unveil those personalities, events, stories, and bits of information that escaped or were excluded from the official versions, in order to bring a richer understanding to neglected or uncomfortable areas of our history.
In many ways, the impetus for this column was shaped by an aversion to the conventional wisdom that calcifies around accepted versions of history over time. I think this is largely because our understanding of history is often not a personal one, but that of the noteworthy things done by other people in other places. Of course the big names, big events, and big ideasare always important to know, but so often the granular local context is lost or plays a subsidiary role to other sweeping narratives that we come to identify with as students and citizens. However, the veneration of important men that was traditionally the focal point of historical research and writing is gradually shifting and it could be argued that the investigation of arcana has long been the focal point of innovative history work, particularly since the rise of popular social history in 1970s.
What we aim to do with this year’s conference is bring forth awareness that everyday people make history every day, even if it doesn’t end up in the history books. That history is not always nice and can sometimes seem incomprehensible, especially when we’re so used to tidy narratives. We also want to cast light on history that has been purposely obscured because it may contradict or complicate the grand narratives that we’ve adopted. The last two years have been a great success, but we believe this year will be exceptional in terms of what taking a non-rose colored view might reveal about our past.
The third annual Gateway History Conference will be Saturday April 29, 2017, at the Eagle Point Park Lodge in Clinton. The keynote speaker and panel session are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., followed by a film screening from 3:30 to 5 p.m. As with previous years, the conference is free and open to the public. To keep it free, conference organizers are accepting sponsorships from individuals and organizations within the community. Those interested in contributing may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Matt Parbs at email@example.com. Program details and schedule will be forthcoming in the next several weeks.
Brad Wiles is the Director of the Clinton Public Library and came to library work through his interest in historical research and archives administration. In his infrequent spare time, he takes on writing and service projects related to the preservation of historical resources and the importance of cultural heritage within communities.