Participant Observer in HIST 323

Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park

The experience of being a participant observer varied greatly between history 323 and composition 250. The two professors created two distinct learning environments and the student’s level of interaction varied greatly.

In composition 250, Dr. Mangrum creates a learning environment in which the scholars know each other on a first name basis.  They are also expected to actively engage in the classroom discussion and ask questions of both the instructor and their peers.  This is very different from the academic environment created in Dr. Gulliford’s history 323.

Glacier National Park USA_4
Glacier National Park

In history 323, National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Dr. Gulliford creates an environment which is similar to reading a great story.  His passionate interest in the subject matter and his use of funny antidotes, beautiful pictures, and stories of adventure tend to engage the attention and interest of the scholars.  Classroom discussion is not discouraged, but it is definitely not the focus of the class.  I personally enjoy the environment created by Dr. Gulliford because, I don’t always feel comfortable participating in class.

The difference between the two classes that stood out most prominently for me was the level on which the students engage with each other. In composition 250, Dr. Mangrum had the scholars spend the first couple class periods doing activities related to learning names.  This practice allowed the students to start addressing each other by their first name instead of merely pronouns such as he or she.  By personalizing their interactions the scholars gain a deeper respect for their peers.

In history 323, the only students who knew each other were friends prior to this class.  No efforts are made within the learning environment to encourage the learning of names or any sort of personalization.  In this class, there is a large group of students who were all in Dr. Gulliford’s Public History Scope and Methods class last semester.  This group, of which I am a part, all sit together on the right side of the classroom.  On the left side of the room, there are smaller groups of scholars who all seem to know each other from social contact outside of the classroom.  These various groups have almost no interactions with one another.

The low-level on which the students interact with one another leads to selfish behavior in the classroom.  When you lack any kind of personal relationship with your peers, it is easy to dismiss them.  The day I acted as a participant observer in Dr. Gulliford’s class other scholars were presenting their first term paper of the semester.  Several students seated around me were talking through the presentations, playing on their computers, or simply listening to their iPods.  This type of behavior illustrates complete disregard for the scholar presenting their findings.

I was surprised to discover that I prefer the environment created by Dr. Mangrum when it comes to the relationships of respect that he has helped to foster between his students. This revelation surprised me because I cannot stand get to know you games, however I am beginning to understand their importance.  I still like the story type of classroom structure created by Dr. Gulliford, but I think that he should spend a short period at the start of the semester introducing the scholars and himself.

The Importance of History

 “Never forget the importance of history. To know nothing of what happened before you took your place on earth, is to remain a child for ever and ever.”

To understand the world we live in, one must have an understanding of where mankind has been and the decisions that have been made along our journey.  A study of the past allows mankind to gain a better comprehension of the world and the distinct cultures and individuals that compose it.  It also allows us to learn from the mistakes of our forefathers, so that hopefully we do not make the same ones.

Acropolis of Athens

History is in my opinion the most important course of study.  History is what creates identities and tells the story of who we are.  Each and every one of us has a unique history of our own. All of these individual histories when put together tell the epic saga of humanity.  From this epic, one can learn about great works of literature, architecture, music, rhetoric, art, science, philosophy, or simply what it was like to live in a different time or be part of another culture.  The stories, experiences, and achievements of mankind are endless. Everyday  new stories are added to the web of history.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

History documents the tremendous achievements of man as well as, the atrocities we have committed.  When one studies these events an understanding of a specific time and place is developed.  The student of history learns to see all the different sides of a particular time and place.  They learn to understand the both the slave owner and the slave, the king and the commoner, and wealthy and the poor.   The ability to relate to people from the past who are every different from our self, is a skill that can help us to understand why people did certain things.

Comprehending why earlier civilizations or individuals made certain decisions can help one make decisions in the present.  Studying the actions of the past educates one as to why certain groups or people hold specific beliefs.  It also allows for the study and understanding of those beliefs.

The discipline of history allows us to see the many different individual histories that make up the world around us.  Through the examination of these histories one simple thing will shine through, the commonality of mankind.  Man comes from every corner of the world with different customs and beliefs, yet our history is a shared history.  This shared history allows people to relate on a fundamental level. We are all human and we all have a story.