Demystification Guru

Just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean it isn't understandable.

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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, August 07, 2005

about history

I have been reading a blog by a Canadian who lives in Scotland now. She posted some thoughts about history and how they way it was taught (especially in high school) made it so boring. I posted some thoughts to her blog comments and now I am posting them here, a little more refined, perhaps.
She is here.

Before I studied art history at university, I thought history was boring. Even when I studied the history of art, I thought “other” history was boring. I now realize that if you try to teach history as an overview, touching on all the detail that makes it “history” to begin with, it is always boring. History only comes alive when you give it a personal perspective. Take the movie called "Longitude" that was shown on A&E some years ago. It was mostly about the fellow who invented a clock that could be accurate at sea and it was fascinating. Any time you show history from a personal perspective, people can relate to it in their own way. If you take out that personal aspect, it automatically becomes dull. Now, historical overviews are used in teaching because they give you all the important points condensed into one semester or book. Even when they go into detail - say the history of just the second world war - they give you the important points, not a personal perspective. And an interesting corollary to that is the objection of groups of people that they are left out of history. Even when you try to do an overview, you have to do it from a particular standpoint and for most of our (North American) history, that standpoint has been that of the British white male. Leaving all the women out of history wasn’t necessarily done on purpose - it was just that the man writing the history wasn’t part of that group. Anyway, if I were teaching history, I would give the overview and then assign several specific books to read to flesh out the bones of the overview. Find books about that period that were written by men and by women and by people of other cultures and people who did research into one interesting aspect of that period. It would be a lot more reading but I bet the students would remember far more about the period than otherwise.


Blogger bikerider said...

Maybe you should write something similar to Longitude, i.e., something historical from a personal viewpoint, like, The History of Salt. I'm sure it's been done, being such an important mineral, but I bet there's other cool stuff out there. Like, how about, the story of India Pale Ale and how the British conquered the rest of the world with it.

10:16 a.m., August 08, 2005  

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