Saturday, May 10, 2014
History, I love it. The setting sun reminds me of the passing of time, the ending of the day. Within that day I've lived history. My own personal history and the stories and events that have happened along with the people who have owned any particular narrative of that day. I am, in that sense, a primary source of the day, my own primary source, and, as I filter what I know of the events of the day and the time, a primary source as I write. Writing and history are thus interwoven in some sort of time dimension that is public. In my own personal history of the day I can tell you who I've talked with, where I've gone, the weather for the day, my impressions of the sights and sounds I've heard, all interpreted by me, but a me that is present and experiencing. If you read my journal, you'd also have a sense of my inner journey for that day, and what I've learned about myself within the world. All of this is history. Personal history. As an observer, I may comment on events I understand are happening outside of myself. Today I might say #bringbackourgirls as the world focuses on the hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian school girls. I can tell the story as I know it and explain the media attention, how the various countries are mobilizing to help. In this sense, I am part of global history, a history that can be examined and brought to light and changed in understanding by many. We can discuss this and see the viewpoints of the many. It is current, fluid, we know more, we know less, it is history in small chunks, history that will stand as an event for future historians to sift through and understand as part of a small individual picture or a larger collective picture. History is dynamic. Not only dates and events, but understanding of the narrative.
I teach an online history class for teachers. One of the tasks is for the students to write their own definition of history. They are not far apart in substance, usually having to do with the past. Some come to the understanding that history can be personal and shared or personal, or a narrative of the past, or some such nuance. The idea for the assignment is that in thinking what history is to a teacher, how history is taught will follow. We're trying to nudge history teachers away from memorizing dates and true/false, multiple choice assessments, to an understanding that history is dynamic and changing and dependent on who chronicles it. Many sides to the story. Her story, his story, our story, their story. It depends. What is the Truth? the truth? Being a detective, finding the clues, making the assumptions and the arguments, applying it to our own lives, to the collective life of a nation, are all wondrous parts of the study of history.
One of my students got me to thinking about the assessments in history that are typically used. What if we applied them not only to global history, but to personal history? What sort of multiple choice or true/false questions would show your depth, your complexity? If we relied on Facebook type information for assessments, history would assume you are always happy and having incredible experiences and that your life is never dull, nor introspective, nor anything but positive. Just sayin'. Our lives are each a mixture of what grows us, and what inhibits our growth, but perhaps needs to simmer so it can become growth. Our history is dynamic. All history is dynamic. Just as we need to examine our own lives to understanding ourselves, so to must we apply this to history in general. It is fascinating as narrative, just as our own personal narrative is fascinating. Teaching history is not reliant on dates and chronology (although some sense of this is important), assessments must not either. History is alive. Personal history, global history. Story, story, story. How can writers not love it?