Why study history?

Tombstone of Nadezhda Stalin in Moscow. Died in 1932. Mystery surrounds her death. Some scholars believe that her death profoundly affected Stalin.

At the end of our academic year,  I reflect on the perennial question, “Why do we study history?”

I’ve turned that question back onto myself.   I could use some help.

This question is one I ask my students at the beginning of each year.

I put the question on the whiteboard, proud that I have started the unit with a student-centered inquiry question.

As the class warms up to this open conversation about why we read about the past,  I ask why we dedicate six periods a week to the topic.

I laugh conspiratorially at the seasonal answer, “Because we have to!” and “It is required.” or the dreaded, “I don’t know.  I hate history.”

I wait, wanting to give my “correct” answer.  I am saved by a, “We study History (with a capital H), Ms. Fitz, because by studying the past we will avoid the mistakes of the past.”  I wonder how many years that answer has been burned into this young man’s fragile cerebral cortex.

Another hand eagerly hits the ceiling, Hermione style, “Ms. Fitz, we study history to understand what is going on in the world today.”

No one offers my answer (in homage to the film “Jerry Maguire”), “I love history and I don’t care what you think. I love history for the subject it wants to be and I love history for the subject it almost is…I LOVE HISTORY!”

In search of ways to make my history classes relevant (and loved) by my students, I now find ways to learn through the use of Facebook, blogging, Twitter, videoing, “Common Craft,” stop-motion and other techie stuff.

But, I have to admit those are just great modern learning tools.  Is history relevant to my students?  Am I right?   The core question still haunts me.

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2 responses to “Why study history?

  1. Michal Langer

    You know, it could simply be for entertainment. Some historical periods are pretty damn awesome!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Mike. I think history is extremely entertaining, too. You couldn’t make that stuff up. It makes me so happy that one of my Higher Level history students sees history that way, too!

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