Why do you love studying history?

Why is studying the past valuable?  Not why should we teach it, or why should the students in your classes learn it, but why do you love it?  That’s the question that we asked the elementary teachers we’ve been working with this year at the start of last week’s workshop.  The question arose, in part, as a result of Rich and I noticing that many of the teachers seemed to always be looking for ways specific experiences on our trip might be transformed into specific lessons – rather than developing a foundational appreciation for the discipline that, in turn, would deepen an approach to history.  If our yearlong study only left folks feeling more prepared to teach young people, it might not lead to inspiration for young people (and their teachers) to learn about the past.

After participants had some time to collect their thoughts individually, they assembled lists in their lesson study groups.  So, what did they say?

Sense of patriotism
Sense of belonging
Connection to our past/present
National pride
Connecting to the people of the past
Feeling-learning about our history thru their voices
Sense of where we come from
Learning from past why? where? how?
Facts not fiction about our history as a nation

Makes things you have read about “real” by going on location
Origin of common phrases
Better appreciation of the contrast between now and then
Past lays foundation for the present and future
Less biased
Amazed by the ingenuity of the historical figures
Inspiration of life long learning
Helps make the past more concrete
Historical fiction or biographies give a story/context to attach new information

Stories (esp. w/ personal application)
Know the past to connect to a better future
Cyclical nature of it
Escape to a different time
Brings events and people to life
Back stories of secondary personalities
Length of certain civilizations

Emotional!  It’s real connection to past
Important to preserve our freedoms
Learning about motivations of people-character.  Human nature.
It’s a great true story.  We can visualize it.
It goes beyond timelines!  Historical questioning.
Building loyalty to our country.

Putting faces to the facts
Sense of story
Past is things- History is the story.
Putting the puzzle pieces together
History is on-going
Multi-perspectives, different points of view
Concrete at first- then as you learn more it becomes fluid(different levels of complexity)
In road to teaching citizenship(builds loyalty to country)
Sense of self - roots?
Knowing the outcome – then going back and learning what led to that outcome.
Voices echoing forward
Power of an individual

Touching artifacts
Connecting w/real people/events
Knowing the outcome & going back  to see how they got there
Connecting the dots of the present with the past
Questioning intent/outcomes
Stories of people overcoming adversity
Stories of the common people

I think that it’s a pretty interesting list, both for what it features and what doesn’t appear.  Many of their entries were on my list, many weren’t, and some of my entries didn’t make it to their lists.  I’m struck by the extent to which these teachers see the study of history as playing a role in developing heritage/patriotism/citizenship – clearly an intended consequence of the Teaching American History program (funding struggles for which you can read about here), but one which I hadn’t expected.

What’s on your list?  Why do you love studying history? What value does the study of history offer?

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2 responses to “Why do you love studying history?

  1. I don’t know yet what I’m going to add to this conversation, except that I feel compelled to say that the main reason I love studying history is because it’s where I feel the most connected. No matter what I learn, especially about America’s history, I feel a sense of interconnectedness to those who have lived before me. My understanding is deepened through the eyes, ears and experiences of others. A visual that comes to mind is the idea of a huge family tree, connecting me to those folks, but a massive root system that connects “our” collective history.

    I first learned to love history when my elementary school grew overcrowded and I spent 5th grade in the biography corner of our school library. It was heaven to just reach around and grab another book, and I read through that entire section, and all the historical fiction, before moving on to 6th grade.

    It has been my privilege to be the keeper of my personal family history, both sides, and I treasure the many ancient books, newspapers, photos and letters cherished and saved by my “never throw anything away” ancestors. Knowing my history, studying it with my children, holds a never ending fascination for me. Yet, I’m just as happy to learn about anybody’s history.

    When asked in September, 2/3 of my class were uninterested or a little interested in learning about history. Over the course of this year, with immeasurable credit going to the work done with everyone in the Teaching American History project, I don’t have any apathetic students left in my classroom.

    This week I brought out my box of revolutionary war books, and after a very brief book talk on each title, spread them out on the back table for the kids to pounce on. Within minutes, every student was enthralled with their choice, sprawled around the room, and reading voraciously. I had to interrupt them for recess.

    What value does the study of history offer to these students? It opens up windows and doors; it enables them to see someone else’s perspective. It takes them outside of their world, and shows them that people are people, through the ages. It helps them relate; gives them food for thought; strengthens their character. Hopefully, it gives them hope for their future.

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