Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Coming Attraction: Credit Union History Since 1970

Although Ian MacPherson's 1999 book on the development of the global credit union movement partially bridges the gap, one of the most gaping holes in contemporary credit union historiography has been the lack of a synthetic treatment of the American movement's recent history. While Moody & Fite's The Credit Union Movement remains an absolutely vital resource, an enormous amount has happened since the last edition was released in 1984 that has the potential to shine new interpretive light on the whole sweep of the movement's development.

One of the benefits of a synthetic work of history is that it organizes the jumble of changes that characterize its subject's development into a coherent, meaningful narrative structure. While people often enter into ferocious debates about the exact parameters of that structure, having some sort of understanding of the mechanisms by which the world came to exist in its current form is a powerful aid to decision-making. Without such a framework, it is impossible to learn from the past beyond the scope of simple personal experience. As George Santayana put it more than a century ago, "when experience is not retained ... infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

(Credit Union) Historic Boston

As this last week was my partner (and fellow history nerd) Allison's February break from teaching, we decided it'd be fun to take a short trip to Boston from our home in northern Vermont. Alli is a social studies teacher with a particular passion for photographing old New England cemeteries (some samples of her work in Vermont can be seen here), so our activities were primarily focused around the various sites on the Freedom Trail. The colonial-era buildings and burying grounds were quite interesting, but, fortunately for myself and the readers of this blog, she was kind enough to oblige me in taking some detours to locate a few sites of historical importance to the credit union movement.

My quest was initially inspired by the knowledge that a plaque honoring Edward Filene was located somewhere on the Boston Common. Since that park was on our itinerary anyway, I found a webpage that provided the plaque's location, and we set out in search of Ed.

Unfortunately, the directions on that page turned out to be a filthy lie; the plaque is nowhere near the intersection of Tremont and Temple Streets. After making a few loops, we stopped into the visitors center, but the woman behind the desk was clueless as to the existence of the memorial. Though it was beginning to feel like a wild goose chase, we decided to circle through the Common one last time.

Victory at Last!
This time, lady luck was on our side, and we stumbled upon the memorial near the intersection of Carver and Boyleston across the street from a piano store and adjacent to the Central Burying Ground. Erected by the Credit Union National Association in 1959 (25 years after the organization's founding at Estes Park, CO in 1934), the monument reads:

Edward A Filene
Author, Scholar, Outstanding Citizen of Boston and Public Benefactor
Acknowledged as the Founder of the Credit Union Movement in the United States
This Tablet Erected by the Credit Union National Association
May 1959