Connecticut State Historian and Associate Professor in the UConn history department Walter Woodward gave a virtual discussion on his new book, “Creating Connecticut: Critical Moments That Shaped a Great State” yesterday afternoon.
“The focus here is on stories that both interest and matter,” Woodward said. “My hope in writing this book and my hope for you is that you will read all of the stories and come away with a desire to know more about Connecticut history.”
Woodward described that he was often inspired by historical writers to write a historical book in a way that everyone can understand, especially since people’s attention span has become shorter.
“It’s a collection of 24 stories, 12 shorter, 12 longer, each of which tells us something important about Connecticut’s past, something that still in one way or another affects our lives as Connecticans today,” Woodward said.
During the discussion, Woodward mentioned some excerpts from his book that he believed were crucial to understanding Connecticut’s history. He explained Connecticut’s origins started with chaos and competition between the Dutch, English and Native Americans. Settlers brought the fear of witches with them, which led to Connecticut’s history with witch hunts in the 17th century. During the industrial age, Irish immigrants were integrated into the state’s culture. They were discriminated against, but over time they became established within society.
Even though people clashed, he mentioned that election day was highly celebrated. He spoke about many traditions of election day in the past, like welcoming the governor and parades in Connecticut. Woodward talked about how those traditions faded over time but one tradition that remained until recently was the making of election cakes, which brought people together.
“Perhaps this is exactly the right time for the Connecticut election cake to make its comeback,” Woodward said. “At this moment where American politics is so divisive and so bitter wouldn’t it be great if a cohort of Connecticans, men and women equally this time, join together to use their ovens to remind people that democracy, the right to choose the people who rule their government, is a sweet privilege indeed and what better way could there be to celebrate sweet democracy than to bring back the tradition of the election cake.”
Woodward emphasized the importance for historians to tell all sides of the story in history but also mentioned how there is a lack of teaching state histories in the education system.
“Given the combination of the increasingly global world and immediate world that is dominated by national politics first and international politics second, tends to make state history seem to be irrelevant to most people,” Woodward said. “But, I don’t think it is, one of the easiest ways to connect people to history as a subject and importance of history is by showing how it operates on the ground and operated on the ground where they lived.”