Seattle historian, organic intellectual, and former Stranger columnist Clark Humphrey has posted a list of 10 things every Seattleite should know. The erudite and highly entertaining list was inspired by an event, What Every American Needs to Know, that happened just over month ago at the Seattle Public Library. It was organized by the Aspen Institute and Citizen University, moderated by local author and educator Eric Liu, and inspired by E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s Cultural Literacy, which was published in 1987 and contained 5,000 essential dates, events, terms, concepts that must be contained in an American mind for it to be culturally healthy.
Clark Humphrey's list for Seattle attempts to construct a continuum between the city's past and present. For him, Amazon and brogrammers did not come out of thin air but can be traced back to the airplane industry ("City of Engineers morphed into a City of Coders"), which in turn can be traced back to the boat industry (though Humphrey does not mention that). But his key point is that Seattle has always been bourgeois. And what he means by this is that the city's raison d'etre is nothing but plain old money-making.
You will find no Seattle in the past that did something other than what it's doing today—namely, making loads of money as fast and as madly as possible. True, the way that money has been made has changed with the times, but the essence has not. Therefore, there is nothing really unique about the current boom. It is one in a series of booms that stretch back to the city's brutal and bloody birth. Indeed, the fourth thing a Seattle person needs to knows is: "Our boomin’ n’ bustin’ economy."
This means all of the exhausting nostalgia for the old soul of Seattle is mostly nonsense. The soul of the city is not found in the hearts of men and women but in their bank accounts.
Timber and the original “Skid Road.” Railroads and steamships. The Alaska connection, from fishing to oil. Boeing. The Depression; hydro power as a “public works” project. WWII; “Rosie the Riveter;” Hanford. The Jet Age; the ’70s Boeing Bust. The baby-boomer entrepreneurs behind Starbucks, Costco, and the first microbrews. The early dotcoms’ rise and fall. Washington Mutual’s rise and fall.