Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Revisiting *Why Study History?*

This semester I have had the rather strange experience of teaching my book, Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. Frankly, I really do not like teaching my own stuff. In my experience, the best history classes are the ones in which three voices--the students, the professor, and the author of the primary or secondary source--are engaging with one another.  In an ideal history classroom the students respond to the professor's ideas, but they also interact with the ideas presented by the author of the reading under consideration on that particular day.  Similarly, the professor responds to the students and offers his or her opinion on the argument presented in the book.

When I am teaching my own book it feels like we are missing one of the essential voices in the conversation.  Rather than a 3-dimensional intellectual experience it feels more like a two-dimensional experience.

Having said that, I have enjoyed revisiting some of my thoughts on history and historical thinking this semester with my Introduction to History students at Messiah College.  I have been Tweeting (@johnfea1) some of my thoughts from the book, but the passage below is too long to tweet:

We need to do a better job of teaching young people to interact with sources and documents from past worlds in a way that requires them to listen and understand before casting judgment.  I rarely here young, progressive, evangelical Christians who want to fight for social justice speak about their callings or vocations in terms of the study of history or some other humanities related topic.  Yet it seems to me that a liberal arts education focused on these disciplines is, without question, the best place to learn the kinds of skills essential to be a world-changer.  The study of African history is not going to feed the poor.  The study of colonial America will not bring relief to the oppressed.  The study of the Russian Revolution is not going to alleviate the plight of the "least of these."  But when taught correctly, history will impart the virtues necessary to end the culture wars, transform our ways of thinking about others, and, in some small way, bring meaningful change to the world.