Time travel and other historical adventures

The past few weeks I’ve spent much of my days at the Huntington Library, reading the journals of an exceptional female minister/healer (by some accounts she was the first American woman to seek ordination as a Congregationalist minster). This woman, Emma Newman, was a friend of suffragist Lucy Stone, she lived within a stone’s throw of Louisa May Alcott (and often heard Louisa’s father speak), and her uncle was a well-known abolitionist.

As I’ve spent hours poring over her journals and letters, I’ve found myself filled with a nearly-overwhelming desire to meet Emma. I went to lunch with two historian colleagues today and the sense of time travel was almost palpable as we sat around discussing our obsession with these individual’s lives–so much so that we’re devoting years of our own lives (our dissertation years) to studying them.

As I’ve studied genealogy and church history, I’ve often felt this same strong connection to the people from the past. I remember a moment a few years ago when a colleague asked me where in time I would time-travel to if I were given the opportunity and I replied that it would be to Nauvoo–I craved to meet Joseph myself and know if I would believe his prophetic mission.

So my question to you is: if you could travel back in time to either one historical moment or to meet one historical person, when and where would you go? And why?


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com

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11 Responses

  1. corinne says:

    i once heard that a rothko painting “is not a picture of an experience, it is an experience.” that is so accurate.

    i would love to meet mark rothko. his life was full of tragedy and beauty. i am enthralled by his paintings, his color fields. he was the target of much criticism, and also of much praise. he died a lonely, depressed man. i’ve always wanted to talk to him about his feelings. about the feelings behind each painting–why those colors? why that combination? my emotions bubble over so strong every time i see one of his works. and a different emotion with nearly every one. i can honestly say his paintings speak to my soul. i am an artist; an art historian; yet, with the millions of beautiful pieces of art there are in the world, rothko’s are the ones that affect me the strongest. i would love to see if the feelings i get looking at them are the feelings he intended for a viewer to experience. and i would love to know what made him choose that shade of blue, move his brush that direction, combine purple with green, with beige, with yellow, in that pattern. how glorious it would be to understand the tragedy that drove him to paint.

    if you don’t know who mark rothko is, i would highly suggest you do a search for him, at the very least, to look at his artwork. one of my personal favorites is No. 14, 1960.

    “The fact that people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions…the people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them. And if you say you are moved only by their color relationships then you miss the point.” –Mark Rothko

  2. Douglas Hunter says:

    What a fun post and first reply. First, we live less than a mile from the Huntington and love the place. We have spent many afternoons there either wondering the grounds or going through the art collection. As if that was not enough then the first reply meeting one of the great abstract expressionist painters (lets hear it for Kline and Motherwell too), its arts and culture day here at the Exponent!

    As for going back in time, there are so many people and times to visit, its hard to choose just one. My wife just piped up and said “Jesus, why would one choose anyone else?” she might have a point.

  3. Azúcar says:

    Eleanor of Aquitaine, no question. Queen of France, Queen of England, a passel of kids including Richard Lionheart and Prince John. Ooooh I would love to spend a weekend grilling her about her life.

    Oh, and I’m also nuts about Rothko, his work overwhelms me.

  4. Jana says:

    How about an Exponent excursion at the Huntington? Douglas are you interested? Anyone else?

  5. Violet says:

    If I lived anyway near Huntington I would so be there, but alas I don’t. I love history and libraries and exponent.

    As far as who I would want to meet, its hard for me to limit just one person or time period. But the first person who came to mind would be Alice Paul, a Quaker and civil rights activist – I think she was an amazing woman who worked for the passage of the 19th ammendment. Worked may be even an understatement, she went to jail, was tortured and went on a hunger strike all because she believed in the equality of women.

    And why Alice Paul? To say thank you and because I admire people who work for social and political justice.

    I would also like to meet a great Aunt of mine. Who was a nurse and participated in the Civil Rights movement in the South and helped start some midwifery programs. Why? I just feel like I could have learned more from her if I could have met her.

  6. Caroline says:

    I love Alice Paul! She’d be one of my tops too. I was moved to tears by that movie Iron Jawed Angels. Really brought home to me how much these women suffered to win me the right to vote.

    I’m sure there are several. But I’d love to meet Mother Teresa. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. William Wilberforce (go see Amazing Grace, people).

    An exponent expedition to the Huntington would be a blast! Douglas, are you in San Marino or Pasadena? I grew up in San Marino.

  7. Caroline says:

    oh and right now I’m reading Mormon Enigma again. Emma Smith was a phenomenal human being. I love her compassion, her strength, and her sense of truth and moral conviction. She’s a hundred times the person I could ever be.

  8. Douglas Hunter says:

    A n Exponent excursion to the Huntington would be very cool.

    Caroline, we are in Pasadena.

  9. Violet says:


    Iron Jawed Angels is one of my all time favorite movies. I wanted to show it my homeroom class when I attempted to a teach a woman studies class, but I live in a conservative area with strict policies on movies – so I couldn’t.

  10. virginiaharris says:

    I would meet Alice Paul!

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  11. Kiri Close says:

    Jana, UBER COOL research here! My list of people to go back in time to see is extensive (understatement). Here’s a handful (not in any particular order):

    Lucy (Australopithicene), Lascaux Cave Painters, first Polynesians, Eve, great grandparents, etc.

    I would also like to meet our descendents in the future (not to shift gears/directions, but while we’re at it…)

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