In a world rapidly advancing towards a vision of the future that would be unfathomable to those who lived in previous generations, two local history buffs are set to start a podcast series with its roots planted firmly in the past.
“Examining the Ages Over Dinner” will be launched in January as part of the East Greenwich Academy Foundation’s website, where podcast co-creator Bob Houghtaling, a Warwick resident and drug counselor for East Greenwich public schools, already has an established podcast entitled “Mulling it Over,” where he has interviewed experts in various fields, politicians and community advocates over the years spanning every topic imaginable.
The new exploratory venture, which Houghtaling is launching with lifelong friend and 25-year veteran Toll Gate High School history teacher Wayne Politelli, will mark the beginning of what the duo hopes to become a regular conversation spanning the ages that might result in meaningful connections to the present.
Houghtaling, a psychologist, believes that studying topics like civics, history and philosophy can lead to an expansion of the mind that is beneficial to building a healthier personality and, by extension, a healthier society. The flip side being that, if people in a society lose touch with their history, it can result in larger negative implications for their sociological wellbeing.
“I see this with our young people today…in my field, I see a lot of people who are polarized and disconnected,” he said. “We’ve lost some of those community fabrics. I think history, civics, social studies, those type of things help create a common bond and a common philosophy. When you lose that, you lose a little bit of your soul but you also lose a little bit of being part of a team and believing that the culture that came before you was important – and that you’re part of a bigger thing.”
Politelli is in a unique position where, as a teacher of AP history courses, he gets to instruct students with a keen interest in historical subjects. He mentioned that, while a shifting focus towards math, science and technology in schools makes good sense considering the movement of society today, the importance of history and civics cannot be lost due to its relegation to the back burner.
“I tell my students that history is probably never going to make you any money but it is the most important subject you are ever going to learn, because it is life,” he said. “You are the product of everyone that came before you to a greater or lesser degree. If you lose that continuum then you lose who you are – and that’s happening.”
Neither Houghtaling nor Politelli consider themselves to be experts in history, but they have enjoyed talking and debating with one another about such topics since they were in grade school. They look to start off the series discussing the American Civil War, a period in which they find multiple similarities between the past and present situations of American society.
“What Wayne and I are looking to do is create a relevance for historical events and see how they’re impacting us today,” Houghtaling said. “We’re not dusting off tombs that have been hidden for ages. What we’re trying to do is find a way to make it applicable and bring it into peoples’ lives, and if regular people like us can play around with it and have a little bit of fun and find a way of deriving a meaning that becomes something we can gain, that’s a blast.”
“We’re just two guys who like history. That’s pretty much it,” agreed Politelli. “We’ve read a lot and we think it’s important that people know about what happened way back when because it affects how people look at things now.”
You may be thinking that the two civically-minded friends are trying to Despite the commonly repeated expression that all history is doomed to repeat itself, Politelli actually finds this to be a dangerous misinterpretation of the way things truly advance and evolve throughout history and into the future.
“That history repeats itself is a myth, because it doesn’t,” he said. “What it does is follow certain patterns and general trends. You can more or less get a feel for how states and individuals react, but you have to be careful. Because you can always pick the wrong time period that you think the present is like. You can pick the right period but apply it wrong.”
He points to the example of the war in the Middle East that began following 9/11, and how it gets compared often with the war in Vietnam. While there are certainly similarities in regards to their prolonged nature, unfavorability with the general public and the blurred lines surrounding the end goal of the conflict, to equate the two is foolhardy, in his view.
Politelli and Houghtaling hope that their discussions will inspire students or anybody listening to engage with their peers more about history and our place in society.
“As the world is getting smaller, quicker and more instant, there’s more of a need for that,” Politelli said.