"I Wish I'd Been There" – Summoning the Past Into the Present


To mark the first anniversary of this web site/blog, we want scholars, authors, waezins, leaders, professionals, intellectuals as well as students of history, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, to contribute towards a special series that we shall be launching on Wednesday April 7, 2010 called “I Wish I’d Been There.” Like the American Heritage magazine did some twenty five years ago in a special issue dedicated to American History, we want you to consider this question:

What is the one scene, incident or event in ISMAILI history you would like to have witnessed — and why?

We are asking you to be a fly on the wall at an epochal period in Ismaili history, and we hope that the range of answers will confirm that historical imagination is unbounded. Taken together, your replies should turn out to be an amusing, moving, and, perhaps, even a coherent narrative history – one that we believe might fulfill a challenge by the pre-eminent American historian, Commer Vann Woodward,  “to summon the past into the present.”

The recommended length for the narrative is 50 to 800 words. Please email it to simerg@aol.com, subject “I Wish I’d Been There.” If you wish, you may  submit a relevant image to accompany your narrative.

Finally, we offer below five narratives of varying length to serve as examples for your contribution. We look forward to your piece.

Abdulmalik J. Merchant
Editor, Www.Simerg.Com

NOTE: The series has now been published. Please read the series via I Wish I’d Been There where you will be able reach each individual article or download a PDF file containing all thirty one narratives on Ismaili history.


A selection of American history narratives taken from American Heritage, December 1984, “I wish I’d Been There,” as examples.

1. FIRST FLIGHT (57 words)

I would like to have witnessed Jacob Brodbeck’s first manned aircraft flight over Luckenback, Texas, in 1865. Newspaper clippings attest to the fact that there were witnesses, but they do not describe what the craft looked like, except to say that it was powered by a large clock spring. Brodbeck decided to call his machine an “airship.” (Hedley Donovan, Fellow of the Faculty of Government, Harvard University)


I would like to have been among that small company of sailors in the moonlit, predawn moment. October 12, 1492, when a lookout aboard a small vessel hailed the sand cliffs of an island never before seen by the eyes of Europeans. Had I rushed to the ship’s rail with Christopher Columbus, I would have witnessed his triumph and shared in the joy and amazement of his companions. Although I would not have known it at the time, I would have been present at the instant that began the European colonization of America (Virginia V. Hamilton. Professor and University Scholar in History. University of Alabama, Birmingham).

3. THE BILL OF RIGHTS (108 words)

I would like to have witnessed the decisive moment when the amendments of the Bill of Rights were adopted, when freedom of the press, of speech, of religion, of assembly and all the other citizen rights were set into the Constitution. Without this affirmation of the rights of individuals as against the power of the state, our country might have taken a far different course. The twentieth century has shown that although literacy has increased in most of the countries of the world, as in our own, even the educated citizen is helpless if there are no established and widely accepted curbs on the power of the state (Contributed by Millicent Fenwick, Ambassador to the United States Mission to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture and former U.S. Congresswoman).


I would like to have been present on that post-election morning in 1948 when Harry S. Truman heard that he had won over the invincible Thomas Dewey.

I would love to have seen his face and heard his feisty remarks. His victory was so personal and so double-edged it proved how wrong we all were about the man. In the campaign he was underestimated and demeaned. We were oblivious to his nature, his strong characteristics. He refused to accept defeat, he came out fighting. He had faith in himself and his purpose, he ran a remarkable underdog campaign. He captured the imagination of America and pulled off one of the most amazing campaign upsets in American history. We should have learned from this victory never to underestimate this man again, this haberdasher from Independence, Missouri, who grew in the job and made the tough decisions at a time when our nation needed tough decisions.

Time is giving us a more constructive historical perspective of Harry Truman. Many of us are now cognizant of how wrong we were about him. I would love to have seen his face on the morning that was the beginning of his triumph and our future understanding of him (Contributed by Victor Gotbaum, Executive Director, District Council 37, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees).

5. THE 1932 WORLD SERIES (409 words)

Among the thousands of baseball games I would give an eyetooth to have seen was the third game of the 1932 World Series. Little rode on the game itself: the New York Yankees, nearing the end of the RuthGehrig era, would take four straight games from the Cubs, outscoring the Northenders 37 to 19. The august New Yorkers, winners of seven pennants in twelve years, disliked the Cubs for their tightfisted treatment of an ex-teammate, Mark Koenig; they hoped to humiliate them.

This was the setting for Babe Ruth’s appearance at the plate in the fifth inning. The Wrigley Field faithful cheered encouragement to Cub pitcher Charlie Root. Ruth, belly advancing in front of his dainty feet, walked to the plate and dug into the lefthanders’ batter’s box. (I have a seat behind the third-base dugout with an unimpeded view of Ruth’s round face.) One strike; then another.

Suddenly, according to popular account, Ruth pointed to the stands, predicting with his gesture a home run on the next pitch. Root’s right-hand delivery met the thirty-seven-year-old Bambino’s bat head on; the ball arced into the stands for a home run; Ruth had “called his shot”!

Is this true? Eyewitness accounts differ. Maybe Ruth had nothing so specific in mind. But what if he did? It would be a stunning achievement. As others have written, even hitting a major leaguer’s pitched ball may be the single most difficult of all athletic feats. Home runs are another matter altogether. A fairly typical home-run champion of our own day might hit a home run every thirteen or fourteen official at bats—every fifteen plate appearances including bases on balls. In his entire career, Ruth averaged one home run every 14.6 plate appearances, in the 1932 season one every 14.3. So the odds against even the mighty Babe smacking one over the fence were too long for most betting men. What humiliation if he had struck out!

But did Babe Ruth worry about odds? If so, what bold defiance of the averages! My mind’s eye sees an unmistakable, if casual, gesture, as though to say, “seven ball in the side pocket. ” Only those who have held both a pool cue and a Louisville Slugger in their hands can realize the monumental gap between calling for the one and calling for the other.

One of the greatest moments of bravado in our history, and I would have wanted to judge for myself what happened (Contributed by Robert L. Beisner, Chairman, Department of History, American University).


6 thoughts on “"I Wish I'd Been There" – Summoning the Past Into the Present

  1. Excellent. I think this series of short article will bring so many issue that have not been elaborated in academic discourse. I wanted to know whether a person could contribute a short article once to this series or he/she could write something else?

    Thank you.

    • Thank you, Nurmamad.

      Yes, you may contribute to the series or write an article for publication in the Literary Readings category of the Web site.

      Please click on the categories shown at the top of the page to find out each category’s expected goal.

      I look forward to your contribution.


  2. I wish I’d been there at the fabled meeting between Hassan Sabbah, Nizam al Mulk and Omar Khayyam in a barn somewhere in Syria… poet, politician and visionary whose paths, although unlikely to have crossed physically, so dramatically influenced the course of Islamic history.

    • Hello Irfan,

      Thank you for your brief, but worthy, contribution even before the series has started – the first excerpt will be published on Wednesday, April 7, 2010.

      I hope you will be able to provide a brief narrative (upto 600 words) about the fabled meeting that took place, and outline the path that each of the three pursued for the rest of their lives.

  3. This is a quick note to tell you that your website is most wonderful and interesting. I hope to contribute to the series “I Wish I’d Been There.”

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