Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Processing and Producing History

The following are some notes that I took from a book I have been using at work to better understand how teacher's are getting their students excited about "doing" history. The book, Freedom's Unfinished Revolution: An Inquiry Into the Civil War and Reconstruction was produced by The American Social History Project. It strongly encourages primary source evaluation as a means to getting at the truth of a historical subject; something I have always strongly believed in.

1. History is the record of change. What makes the period so interesting and pertinent to our own lives is how the Civil War and Reconstruction changed American democracy.

2. History is the study of human relationships, behavior, and interaction. In the center of change are human actors; strong and weak, female and male, rich and poor, black, white, brown, and yellow.

3. History shapes the lives of ordinary people, and in turn ordinary people shape history. At times history has been made at the most basic levels of society. Presidents and politics are important to understand, but so are the "plain people." Don't forget their stories to understand the big picture.

4. History is observed and interpreted through many eyes. History gets filtered through many different entities; popular culture, agenda driven organizations, and biased writers, just to name a few. Historians must look at the past with a discerning eye and make decisions based on the evidence they collect.

5. History is the art of investigation. As a detective, the historian collects knowledge based on their reading and research. That general knowledge in turn helps them make decisions on the reliability or strength of future sources.

When you start with a confusing historical question that you want to solve, doing the research can be very rewarding. And, when you finally collect all the clues and assemble them, and then present your evidence, all the work that went into answering your question becomes worthwhile and self-satisfying.

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