Friday, June 10, 2011

Unnamed Lands

Among the many reasons why I do genealogy and family history are those of religious belief, personality, responsibility, the influence of good friends and family members, and the fact that it allows me to use my degree in history on a regular basis.

And now that there are so many resources available online, it is possible to do a significant amount of research in primary and secondary sources without having to travel. Many online collections, both historical and genealogical, continue to expand in marvelous ways. Just a year ago, I would have had to book a round-trip ticket on an airline, rent a car, find a place to stay in Salt Lake City, not to mention finding someone to take care of my children while I was gone, to see the resources I recently used in producing a series of guest posts on the Mormon History Blog, Keepapitchinin. (“Died in the Service of Their Fatherland”: Latter-day Saints in Germany, World War I — Part 1, Part 2, and Karl PĆ¼schel: “Far Away from My Home”: A Latter-day Saint in the German Army, 1918) (Well, either that, or hire a researcher who is familiar with German.)

All this is prologue to a poem I read recently which contains some thoughts about the continuity of history and of people and experience. It evidently reflects some of my thoughts on the subject closely enough that someone, upon reading it without attribution, asked me if I had written the poem. (What flattery!)


NATIONS ten thousand years before these States, and many times
          ten thousand years before these States,
Garner'd clusters of ages that men and women like us grew up and
          travel'd their course and pass'd on,
What vast-built cities, what orderly republics, what pastoral tribes
          and nomads,
What histories, rulers, heroes, perhaps transcending all others,
What laws, customs, wealth, arts, traditions,
What sort of marriage, what costumes, what physiology and
What of liberty and slavery among them, what they thought of
          death and the soul,
Who were witty and wise, who beautiful and poetic, who brutish
          and undevelop'd,
Not a mark, not a record remains—and yet all remains.

O I know that those men and women were not for nothing, any
          more than we are for nothing,
I know that they belong to the scheme of the world every bit as
          much as we now belong to it.

Afar they stand, yet near to me they stand,
Some with oval countenances learn'd and calm,
Some naked and savage, some like huge collections of insects,
Some in tents, herdsmen, patriarchs, tribes, horsemen,
Some prowling through woods, some living peaceably on farms,
          laboring, reaping, filling barns,
Some traversing paved avenues, amid temples, palaces, factories,
          libraries, shows, courts, theatres, wonderful monuments.

Are those billions of men really gone?
Are those women of the old experience of the earth gone?
Do their lives, cities, arts, rest only with us?
Did they achieve nothing for good for themselves?

I believe of all those men and women that fill'd the unnamed
          lands, every one exists this hour here or elsewhere, invisible
          to us,
In exact proportion to what he or she grew from in life, and out
          of what he or she did, felt, became, loved, sinn'd, in life.

I believe that was not the end of those nations or any person of
          them, any more than this shall be the end of my nation, or
          of me;
Of their languages, governments, marriage, literature, products,
          games, wars, manners, crimes, prisons, slaves, heroes, poets,
I suspect their results curiously await in the yet unseen world,
          counterparts of what accrued to them in the seen world,
I suspect I shall meet them there,
I suspect I shall there find each old particular of those unnamed

Walt Whitman.

Phrenology, which is mentioned in the poem, is an old-fashioned way to study personality by making intricate measurements of the head. You can see a copy of Wilford Woodruff's phrenological reading here and George A. Smith's reading here at the Church History Library Collection on

The picture of our galaxy, the Milky Way (to the right), and two nearby galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (to the left) was taken by Luis Argerich in Argentina and is available under a creative commons license with some restrictions at The Norwegian Landscape is from

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