History for me was a special topic due to my father. His stories were my primary source about the world, politics and the events that had changed society from 1911 to 1986. He had been born in 1911 and had a brother who served in WWI and another who served in WWII. In my mind’s eye, History was going to be a class of storytelling but when reality hit I was quickly disillusioned. The text book was thicker than any I had ever seen and the content was dry, factual, specific and lacked any of the qualities of my dad’s stories. Thankfully, he taught me how to navigate the text and introduced me to microfiche and autobiographies which helped add color to the stark black and white perspectives presented in the text. Although the act of cross referencing the text contents with primary sources and original recounts was tedious this process helped fill in the detail which had been scrubbed out of the text. With each passing History class I learned more about the quality of a text book, the validity of sources and how perspectives can change from one edition to another. History is still a subject I thoroughly enjoy and understand because I was taught how to use a critical eye in assessing the source and ways to triangulate any proposed theories. However, many students are not lucky enough to have a living breathing historian in their midst and for them History is a boring topic that couldn't be further removed from their everyday life.
The Challenge of Historians
The materials that a teacher has available to use can have an enormous impact on the delivery and uptake of the content. History by its very nature is both broad and deep therefore it is one of the more complex studies to teach. The materials are a cumulative collection of all the details and perspectives on the events of a given age or geography. The sources and their validity are wide and varied and as such it is a subject of great controversy lacking in many instances in empirical verifiable fact. Yet, most History text books read like a collection of indisputable fact while leaving out the mystery and subterfuge which make history come alive. So how then do we select the materials to be used in the classroom? At a time when primary sources and original accounts are available via the internet does it make sense to keep the History textbook center stage? In our quest to make history leap off the page or the screen are our teachers adequately trained to deliver the materials in new ways? While all of these questions are important more critical is how do we develop and deliver materials in a way that the students will want to use them. Throw in technology, open access and the digitization of primary sources and you begin to get a sense of the Mt. Everest scale of the challenges associated with selecting the right blend of materials with which to teach history.
The history text book has had a strangle hold of the classroom and even textbook authors like...