Let’s Talk About History (and why it’s important)

February 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm Leave a comment

Posted by Mary Chaktsiris

What is interesting and worthwhile about the study of past?

Engaging with the past is often full of complications for students and instructors alike. For students, especially students at post-secondary levels, engaging with the process of doing history can be somewhat of a pragmatic minefield. As my fellow bloggers have noted here, there are practical complications surrounding the use of primary sources in the classroom, and as I discussed last time, there is a tension surrounding the not-so-apparent construction of lectures and lecture material.

At the post-secondary level there is the complication of what students will “do” next.  Are they headed to law school or teachers college? What about entering the corporate world, starting their own business, or working for government within Canada and around the world? Could they become researchers and consultants? Or go to medical school, and maybe even pursue graduate study in history or a related discipline, or one of many other professional degrees? Students of (and in) history are able to pursue a variety of career paths that are often more varied than students walking out of post-secondary institutions with other degree specialties.

Yet the multiplicity of career options available to history graduates is often lamented as employment uncertainty.  For example, a student with a degree in engineering may logically be expected to work or apprentice as an engineer in the years immediately following graduation; the path for graduates in history and the work of historians is not so clear. I remember sitting in the hard wooden chairs at my undergraduate convocation. Someone in a long, flowing academic robe stood in front of my large convocating class and spoke to us not only about the importance of the arts, but of the importance of our skills as graduates in the arts and humanities.  Afterwards my mother, who was listening in the crowd of hovering parents and family behind the graduates, reminded me of what had been said.

“He said that graduates of the arts should never feel they have the skills to do nothing,” my mom reminded me, “instead, they have the skills to do anything.”

Critical Thinking. Evaluation of Evidence. Empathy. Argument Formulation. The skills we are discussing in this blog, and that are being discussed in the larger literature of History Education and related disciplines, are important not only in facilitating more effective and affective learning experiences in history classrooms; they have a larger significance as employable skills facilitated by effective learning in the arts and humanities.

In a climate of reduced funding for humanities both within and outside academia at all levels, it is not only imperative that history educators come together to learn from one another and better history education. It is imperative that we start talking, and start talking loudly, to students and colleagues alike about the importance not only of our research and skills but also about the larger significance of what it is that we do. I return again to the question I started this entry with: what is worthwhile about the study of the past?

I haven’t really even begun to answer this question here, so let’s get talking.

Entry filed under: Teaching University. Tags: , , , , , .

“What might it mean to live our lives as if the lives of others truly mattered?” On oral history and the presence of the past

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