We are a forward looking nation. We once built cars, typewriters, shoes, and zippers for the world. But we dumped our manufacturing base without a thought, without nary any remorse or inklings of inner self-guilt. Instead, we imagined a future time where Americans stood atop the pyramid of consumption, like great carnivores of the desert, yes, the USA: top of the food chain, mighty beacon of materialism, debt, and American Idol. Our culture is largely based on the premise that we need not worry why, how or where we came from, just as long – sing it with me now – we “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, It’ll soon be here” (thank you Fleetwood Mac).

Given the general absence of looking back to hear the voices of the past, it’s no wonder that many Americans are tone deaf to the lessons of yesteryear. We are disastrously disconnected from the global inputs that created these United States. For example, often times the only thing that keeps us connected to Europe are the Disney movies that insist on depicting life and love in terms of princes and princesses (long live the monarchy). Given such an extricated sense of the past, one can almost surge forth some sort of sympathy for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he chose to describe France and Germany as “Old Europe.”

But it is “Old Europe” I’m off to study and I must admit that there is one particular aspect of this scholastic jaunt that I feel ill-prepared for. Wrapping my head around kings, dukes, earls, viscounts, and other assorted titles of the rich and “infamous” is not easy for me. The USA pretty much rejected that system of peerage and doors, in a sense, finding it all rather repressive. I find it rather repressive still: intimidating even.

Let me supply you with an example of what I mean. Recently in England, Somerset to be exact, a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Powell, decided to redecorate their “house.” So far I can relate, Home Depot and Lowe’s are both down the street. However, when the DIY Powell’s pulled down some rutty-looking wooden panels that covered one wall of their living room, they found a mural. Not just any old mural, but a sixteenth-century fresco of Henry VIII painted into the masonry (click highlighted text for the full story and video

These eyes have not seen the light of day for centuries, a surprising discovery after a DIY project in a home in Somerset, England.

from BBC). Yes, the beheading-monarch in all his glory, some twenty-feet tall and staring down into the living room like some omnipresent entity. That’s oppressive. If I pulled down a wooden panel the only possible image to meet my eyes would be the termite rendition of wood rot.

But it’s Europe, and in Europe history hides in every nook and cranny. In America, our nooks and crannies are in the form of Thomas’ “English” Muffins. It’s not funny! I’m from the south shore of Long Island, the working class suburban paradise of New York City. How am I supposed to adjust to a land where actual remodeling projects turn into excavations of past kings?

Perhaps one of the great lessons learned during the writing of my master’s thesis is the British proclivity for peerage, a system of doors, the original LinkedIn network. Take Thomas Pelham, for example; when his uncle, a one Mr. John Holles, passed on, he left an inheritance to young Thomas on one condition: that he change his name to Holles. Thus, by the age of twenty, Thomas Pelham-Holles held property in eleven counties with an annual income from rents of £32,000 (in 1732 currency)!!! That’s not the oppressive part, though I am certain his renters then might have said otherwise. Most of his contemporary peers, and most historians know him as “Newcastle.” Thomas Pelham-Holles was the Duke of Newcastle, and dukedom trumps Christianity. You addressed him then, and we address him now as “Newcastle” and not “Thomas,” his Christian name. That’s oppression!

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