Bitten By the History Bug

John Holmberg with (l to r) Jim, Ron, Kathy, and Janet at the Falls of the Yellowstone, 1964. Photo courtesy of Ann Holmberg.

I was going to do a Lewis and Clark related blog but I changed my mind.  Some of my colleagues noted that since today is my birthday I should do a birthday post on me. They were kidding but upon reflection I decided why not! I've often been asked why I got into a history- related career; so why not blog about it. The answer to that is a standard one I think - nature and nurture. My nature is such that I've always enjoyed and been fascinated by history and historical figures. But to that must be added nurture. From the age of four, my family went on vacations across the country. Those trips didn't just cover hundreds of miles, they often covered thousands. Wherever we went we saw not only America's natural wonders but also its historical sites.

Waiting for Old Faithful to erupt, 1964. Photos by John Holmberg.

The beauty of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons sticks with you. Roaming over the Little Big Horn Battlefield, envisioning that day in June 1876 when Custer's "luck" finally ran out. Touring Independence Hall and seeing the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Seeing the old North Church and Paul Revere's house in Boston and then reading the famous Longfellow poem. The Anasazi cliff dwellings; the majesty of the Grand Canyon; Mount Rainier lit by a setting sun, Fort Niagara, Civil War battlefields, the rocky coast of Maine, the Golden Gate Bridge, and many, many more experiences tend to stay with you. Seeing these places gave rise to a desire to read about them. And if I'd read about them and hadn't seen them, then to see them.What helped even more was my father taking pictures. With his Argus camera and Kodachrome film, dad documenting our trips with memory-setting and often stunning photography. We might not have appreciated it then, but we sure did later.

Custer Hill, Little Big Horn National Battlefield, Montana, 1964.

By the time I was 14 I'd been to 47 states and Canada. How these family camping trips of long days in the car, setting up and breaking down camp on sometimes a daily basis, and full scale meals on a cook stove with four kids could ever be considered vacation by my parents I've yet to fathom. When I ask them they say it was fun and they enjoyed it. I tell them I think they should be canonized. I don't think my sisters, brother, and I realized how fortunate we were at the time. We knew we were better traveled than most kids, but we took much of what we were exposed to and absorbed for granted. It was only as I grew older that I truly grew to appreciate those family vacations and the course they had set me on.  I'd been bitten by the history "bug" and I've been scratching ever since!


Sunset along the Maine coast, ca. 1965.

Sunset along the Maine coast, ca. 1965.


Standing in Oregon Trail wagon ruts, Wyoming, ca. 1973.

Standing in Oregon Trail wagon ruts, Wyoming, ca. 1973.

Campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, ca. 1974. Long's Peak is in the distance.

James J. Holmberg

2 comments on “Bitten By the History Bug

  1. Eric James

    I got the bug in junior year of high school. I was asked to elect either a course in Russian language or a special class in American history. I chose the special class. Eight of us were in the special class. We met before school hours in the faculty library, off limits to students. Each of us selected our own topic of American history to study for a semester. I chose cattle drives from Texas north to the railroads. We then were directed to go research on our own. Our meetings would only address problems we encountered while conducting research. Near semester’s end, we each gave a one hour presentation on our topic, followed by two hours of questioning by our fellow students. At semester’s end, it was our fellow students and not the professor who graded us, based upon our depth of knowledge, communication of subject, ability to reply to inquiries, and the quality of all the above. The bug since has saddled me with a personal library of history books that severely impacts me every time I chose to relocate.

  2. Trace Kirkwood

    Happy birthday, Jim. Maybe that should be “Old Faithful Geezer” these days!


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