“Why Study History? (1985)”

Sorry friends, I’m not talking about the great new book, but I do have a great article here found on the AHA’s website.

Here is a taste.

Level I. Personal-Local History

The costs of this change are now becoming apparent, and many concerned persons agree that returning to a more structured curriculum, in which history ought to play a prominent part, is imperative. But choice of what sort of history to teach remains as difficult as ever. Clearly we need careful reflection about, and search for, enduring patterns and critical turning points in the past, for these are the historical facts that everyone needs to know, not what happens to interest a particular teacher or aspiring specialist. Whether historians will rise to the occasion and successfully bring old and new sorts of history together into an understandable whole remains to be seen. In the meanwhile, a few obvious suggestions are all that can be offered here.

Amongst all the varieties of history that specialists have so energetically and successfully explored in recent decades, three levels of generality seem likely to have the greatest importance for ordinary people. First is family, local, neighborhood history: something often transmitted orally, but worth attention in school for all that. This would seem especially important for primary school years, when children start to experience the world outside their homes. Second is national history, because that is where political power is concentrated in our time. Last is global history, because intensified communications make encounters with all the other peoples of the earth increasingly important. These levels belong to high school and college, in the years when young people start to pay attention to public affairs and prepare to assume the responsibilities of citizenship. Other pasts are certainly worth attention, but are better studied in the context of a prior acquaintance with personal-local, national, and global history. That is because these three levels are the ones that affect most powerfully what all other groups and segments of society actually do.

Can such courses be taught and fitted into the curriculum? The answer is yes, if teachers and administrators try hard to put first things first and achieve a modicum of clarity about what everyone ought to know. National history that leaves out Blacks and women and other minorities is no longer acceptable; but American history that leaves out the Founding Fathers and the Constitution is not acceptable either. What is needed is a vision of the whole, warts and all. Global history is perhaps more difficult. Certainly our traditional training sidesteps the problem of attaining a satisfactory vision of the history of humanity, since few historians even try for a global overview. Still, some have made the attempt. Moreover, every scale of history has its own appropriate patterns which, once perceived, are as definite and as easily tested by the evidence as are the meaningful patterns that emerge on any other scale. This means, I think, that careful and critical world history is attainable just as surely as is a careful and critical national history that does not omit the important and newly self-conscious groups that were previously overlooked.

If you want to read the rest of the article check it out here.

-Phil

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Christian, Lover of History, Aspiring Teacher

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