History has long been a passion of mine. It began in childhood when my mother read me the Little House on the Prairie series. Since that time, I have read volumes of history books, taken classes for the sure pleasure of learning, watched documentaries, and been drawn to historical fiction movies and television programs, sometimes for no other reason than to study sets and costume design.
But not every period of history speaks equally to me. I don’t find them all fascinating, or even interesting, and while I know quite a bit about world history in general, there is only one period for which I would consider myself an amateur historian.
That period goes by many names — the late Victorian-Edwardian era, the Gilded Age, the Belle Époque, the Titanic era — but they all refer to the late 19th/early 20th century. This is when the old world gave way to an era powered by technology, swept by social change and forever scarred by world war.
History Speaks to My Soul
The years 1890-1920 speak to my soul in a way that no other age does and in a way I can’t fully articulate. There is something very comforting and familiar about that time. I feel it every time I see a photograph or old film footage. In addition, it is the only time period that can move me to tears.
It also appeals to me for more concrete reasons:
- It was an age of hope and promise dashed by devastating conflict. When the century began, technology was making lives better. It was lighting homes, decreasing the infant mortality rate, making cities cleaner, and revolutionizing transportation. There was nothing technology couldn’t do. Then the Titanic sank, and killing machines ended the lives of millions during the Great War, and suddenly technology was seen to have an evil side along with a benevolent one.
- The era changed the world in countless ways. The world of 1920 looked and felt much different that the world of 1890. Empires fell, colonies earned recognition, women began exploring newfound freedom, monarchies collapsed, and all the problems of the 20th century were set in motion – communism, fascism, instability in the Middle East.
- Ordinary people became extraordinary. When the Great War began, people who had held mundane jobs and lived quiet lives, rose to the occasion, not breaking under adversity, and becoming heroes simply by having lived and doing what needed to be done.
Passion in Action
The American Civil War speaks to my mother’s soul in the same way the Belle Époque speaks to mine. It makes her feel something that no other time period can and she can’t get enough.
Recently, my family and I attended a Civil War re-enactment. I was able to test what I already knew.
The battle was fun to watch, the artifacts and reproductions gave perspective on life 150 years ago, and the women’s dresses were cumbersome and silly, but it stirred no emotions. It was a good day, but it made me feel no different than any other nice summer activity.
I spent the afternoon wishing it was 1910 and wondering how many Civil War veterans lived to see the start of the Great War in July 1914.
For me, 1890-1920 aren’t just years that grace the pages of history books; they live inside me everyday, their stories yearning to be told.
Updated: 14 October 2020