A Vested Interest in Sharing History

My favorite Clio readings are always the ones that make a direct connection between digital tools and practical applications in sharing history.  And this was definitely one of those weeks.  Sam Wineburg hit the target again and again when talking about “history as intellectual thought rather than memorization”.  I do realize there is validity and necessity in knowing dates, places and names.  However, I have always thought that rote memorization makes history particularly boring. What makes history interesting is all the side stories, the questions, and the things we can learn about ourselves by understanding the past.

But, Martin and Wineburg keep us in check in the next article, reminding us that historians can go too far, and forget from whence they came. “The idea that, below their surface, texts harbor deep meanings that cry out for interpretation, analysis and debate is one of those assumptions that seems so normal once we are socialized into academia that we forget how counterintuitive it can be”.

So, if we agree that rote memorization is boring, but that academics can forget how assumptions and methods developed over years of undergraduate and graduate study can be confusing to newer students of history, how do we gain the advantages of intellectual thought without alienating or further confusing young historians?

The “Hoaxes” blog offered the most interesting ideas to me.  Making students part of the learning process, and speaking to them in language that they understand (read, 21st century technology).  Requiring students to make Wikipedia edits was sheer brilliance!  How do we create within students a vested interest in what they learning?  Could we perhaps put the responsibility on them for editing their encyclopedias online?  With this tool, teachers might get students interested in history, and interested in learning.  I remember the pressure I felt making my Wikipedia edits, and the pride I felt when they actually stuck!

Mark Sample had some great thoughts as well.  I really liked the concept of “building and sharing”, for isn’t that what history is supposed to be about?  I think he also articulated the difference between “thinking” – hard, boring, indolent, and “working” – easy, exciting, challenging well.  Thinking is hard.  How many times have we all sat in front of our computer and stared at a blank screen, praying fervently for some brilliant idea, some original research, to come crashing into our heads?  Working, in contrast, if not actually easy or exciting, is certainly challenging and satisfying.  Working also gives focus and purpose to our efforts.  Working gives us new ideas, new interpretations.  Eventually, working leads to thinking, but with a lot les effort.

One other comment I appreciated – that students who engaged in games or digital projects were more engaged in their subject and reaped more intellectual rewards than their counterparts who wrote traditional papers.  Their results may have been “modest”, but they put significantly more work (and I’m willing to bet, more thought as well) into these projects.  I hope Professor Leon keeps this tidbit in mind when she is grading our projects in a few weeks!  😉  Looking forward to class discussion, and hope you all had a relaxing and bountiful Thanksgiving!

One comment

  1. “…how do we gain the advantages of intellectual thought without alienating or further confusing young historians?”

    A good question you posit that I hope will be part of the discussion this evening.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s