Connotation of History

Growing up With History

I remember spending afternoons watching history documentaries in my living room, and always hearing my mom go on about how history put her to sleep. She would reminisce of her middle school history teacher throwing erasers at students who fell asleep during class, and how she always found the study of history to be boring. Since I have consistently had a draw towards learning about how things came to be, it is difficult to place myself in the position of a person who finds history boring. By doing so I planned to gain insight about how to make history a more accessible, and applicable discipline for the twenty-first century.

The memory of my mother complaining helped drill the idea into my head that the everyday person finds history to be a dull and boring subject. People see history as not having much of an application in the real world (it is the past after all). The fact that there was a discrepancy between my love for history and the general population’s negative view of it helped foster my curiosity on this subject. What created the perception that history was boring?

How do Students View History?

Figure Two closely resembles the class dynamics of many of the history courses that I have taken at Fort Lewis College. Why are students so resistant to learning history? In order to find out, I took to the residence halls to interview students that are taking history courses. I wanted to find out what works and what doesn’t in history classes, as to gain insight on how historians can change the way that people view our discipline.

Figure Two: Typical Attitudes of Students in History
Figure Two: Typical Attitudes of Students in History

In order to get an idea of what needs to be changed in historical education and discipline, I had to get an idea of what exactly turned people away from history. For the knowledge of what people didn’t enjoy about my discipline, I turned to my peers. It turned out that all I had to do in order to gain a closer to complete picture of the perception that our society has about history, all I had to do was talk with people about the subject and listen to what they had to say.

In talking to my peers, I was able to construct a vision of how students view my discipline. Sam Travis, an English major at Fort Lewis College, was one of three of my interview subjects, and he expressed that he did not enjoy his history class. Travis’ sentiment of history matched that of the rest of my interview subjects, making me want to look deeper into  why he viewed the subject as boring. He also mentioned that his high school only required three years of history while every other subject was devoted four years. I am not saying that people don’t like history because they are getting less of it though. I do believe that it is how history is taught that is impacting it so negatively.

My peers were able to give me some good insight, but they all acknowledged that they thought their history classes were somewhat boring. The interviews I had conducted left me wondering: Is there any hope to make history relevant to people? I have constructed a list of what I view as a general person’s connotation of history, in order to give me something concrete that I can work to improve upon.

General View of History

My questions led me to create a list of how the general person might view history, whether these claims are true and can be challenged or not is what the rest of this project is about.
  1. Excitement in history is dependent upon who is teaching it.
    • Mikayla Sanchez claimed that it is easier for her to be excited about history when she has someone who is passionate about the subject teaching to her.
  2. History is static.
    • The past is the past, and what happened is said and done.
  3. History is boring.
    • Articulated by my peer Delainey Winder, history “is boring, but it is important.” This statement hints that if we change the teaching method we might be able to make it exciting.
  4. All history consists of is reading and memorization.
    • Boring books do not provide a good medium for the everyday person to learn history. David Cutler articulated the situation in his article in The Atlantic, saying that history has almost always “been taught as little more than a callous exercise in regurgitation and rote memorization.” He argues that connections to the present will help us make history more interesting.
  5. History is detached from personal experience in the modern world.
    • Students are having trouble connecting to the time periods that they are studying. Raw facts as opposed to thought out stories do not help in making history seem interesting.

In what ways can this negative connotation be challenged? How can we increase the role that history and historians play in the twenty-first century? Do historians develop the skills to help change the perception of their study?

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