Cambrian: Opinion

Tales from Town: Looking back, we find ourselves and our future

“Anyone who believes you can’t change history has never tried to write his memoirs.”

I love that quote from the late Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, because there’s so much truth in the humor. After all, history changes with the telling. Especially when it pertains to our own lives.

Mark Twain had this to say: “To arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man’s character one must judge it by the standards of his time, not ours.” The world was a different place 100 years ago — even 30 years ago. We need to consider the influences of the times when we look back on how others spent their lives.

OK, so we’ve heard from a few famous historical figures. What do some local folks have to say? I asked a few Cambrians this question: “Why is history important?” Here’s what they had to say:

“The study of history is vital. If we don’t learn about the mistakes of the past, we are doomed to repeat them. If we don’t learn about the successes of the past, we might not understand the best courses of action we should choose for the future. And, we would lose all of the wonderful thoughts and ideas that people have had that can enrich our lives.”

— Shirley Bianchi, former county District 2 supervisor

“For me, personally, I enjoy reading biography for my history instruction, since it is my way of learning how people of great learning and ability (as well as people of the most modest learning) have dealt with the happenings of their times. I find it to be not just instructive, but also exhilarating to see people at their best, and at their worst, when called upon.

“Renee loves to tease me about reading about old, dead white men, and there’s some truth to it on the surface, but there’s more. Right now, I’m reading a bio of Louis Brandeis, lawyer, judge, reformer, Supreme Court Justice and philanthropist. From the late 1800s to the 1930s, he was active. He was the first Jewish justice on the court, helped to start the state of Israel, provided a lot of the financing for the University of Louisville, was a confidante of Woodrow Wilson (who nominated him to the court), and advised Wilson on many issues over the years.

“By reading in depth about an individual, we come to know the person and his times and find out the hows and whys of the system of government and economy we have today, because of actions he or she took or advocated. In many ways it is exemplary of how we could all be better people and push our world into a better future. History, then, is full of examples of the good and the bad, both of which teach those who pay attention. It is the carrot and the stick of time and life, no?”

— John Linn, owner of Linn’s Fruit Bin

“History reminds us that we are not isolated in time but part of a continuum. It reveals our place in the panorama of the land and the succession of people who have preceded us; with that knowledge we can better appreciate the past and plan for the future.”

—Dawn Dunlap, Cambria native and historian “I like the following that I read recently: ‘History is important for numerous reasons. We learn from our mistakes. We share a common experience that binds us together. Our minds store our experiences (history). Society can build upon past accomplishments, and it also helps us to speculate (about) the future.’”

—Hoyt Fields, museum director, Hearst Castle

“I like history because you get to learn about your ancestors and about famous people and what they did. We’re now studying Greece and we’ve learned about how they gave us plays and other things. Today we learned about Alexander the Great and how he was only 20 when he conquered Greece and all of Persia. He never gave up.”

— Ellie Magnuson, 11, middle-school student

“As we mature, the importance of history becomes more apparent. History is a method by which we better understand our ancestors; how they lived and why they did things. Our lives are all connected through history. As the cliché goes, we must learn from history to prevent mistakes in the future.”

—— Bob Soto, a fifth-generation Cambrian and

eighth-generation Californio

“History is important, for when we look at past civilizations and generations we realize how small we are, and hopefully part of a bigger plan and higher purpose.”

—Debbie Soto, a fourth-generation Cambrian on

the Fiscalini side

There you have it. The importance of history in a nutshell. I hope you’ll take a minute to think about the role history plays in your life and in our community. “We share a common experience that binds us together,” as Hoyt Fields pointed out. We would love to have you share it with us at the Cambria Historical Society.

Susan McDonald is a member of the Cambria Historical Society Board of Directors. The Cambria Historical Museum at the corner of Burton Drive and Center Street in Cambria’s historic East Village is open 1 to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday. For more, go to