What Is History?
happy history book
happy history book

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." L. P. Hartley, The Go Between,1953

"We ought to learn to enjoy history as part of enlarging the experience of being alive," external image ani-pix.gif

David McCullough says. "Why would you want to close yourself off to all of that human story? Why would you want to limit yourself to this little bit oftime we're allowed by our biological clocks?external image clock.gif

....The past, after all, is only another name for someone else's present." - David McCullough, author, historian, winner of The National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize (twice), and Francis Parkman Award

Enlarging the Experience of Being Alive by David McCullough

History is about life. external image to-class.gif

That's its pull. The supposedly dead past is nothing of the kind. Measured beside the present, it is the greater part of human experience by far. Who were those people who braved the storms, external image columbus.gif

who left their marks on cave walls and in revolutionary mathematical theory? What was it like to travel the America Audobon saw? Or to be Bershwin in Paris? Can we ever know enough about the ways the world changed in 1917? Or 1945?

I would no more wish to shut myself off from the past than to stay rooted always in the same place. external image ani-flower.gif

One reads history, external image bigbook.gif

just as one travels, primarily to enlarge and intensify the experience of being alive. That really is it, I think; that and the exhilaration of much of the finest writing we have.

1. Why should people study history?

2. What is McCullough’s definition of history?

3. Without history what would we miss?

4. Use the internet to find out what happened in 1917; in 1945. Write what you find out as the answers to this question. Tell why people think it's important to know about these things.

5. What is his conclusion as to why we should study history? Give your reason for either agreeing or disagreeing with him

Why Study History?

Diane Ravitch, professor, author, former U. S. Assistant Secretary of Education, 1991-1993

Why study history? . . . . history makes people more intelligent. History . . . . [investigates] causes; it is a way of finding out how the world came to be as it is.

Without history, we are without memory
empty head
empty head

and explanations. Those who do not know history-- their own history and that of their society and other societies . . . . cannot understand their own lives nor the changes in their society and in the world. The person who knows no history . . . . [lacks] a sense of what happened before and . . . . [can't] . . . . . . . tell the difference between cause and effect.

Unfortunately, many people get the impression from studying history in school .... that history is nothing more than a recitation of dull facts about battles and kings. external image ani_snooze.gif

History ought to be the most exciting course taught in school . . .
"Yea, history!"
"Yea, history!"

. . . . . It ought to . . . . [introduce] students to great men and women external image egyptqn.gifexternal image washington.gif

who risked their lives for principle or who committed foul deeds for the sake of power. . . . . Just as students need to think about the present, they need to think about the past and to realize that it was just as complicated as the present and not a cut- and dried affair. . . .

Pick up the newspaper on any day, and the stories [depend on] a basic knowledge of history. They refer to events assuming that the reader has some knowledge of the past. The person who has studied history can read the newspaper and magazines with a critical eye, can understand new developments external image i-know.gif

because he or she has a historical context in which to place them; can mentally reject erroneous statements; and is resistant to indoctrination and propaganda.

When we study history,

we teach not only what happened in the past, but how to [think] . . . .,

external image listengirl.gif

how to analyze . . . . change, and how to [think about opposing] ideas. . . . . Why study history? To gain the habits of mind and the intellectual tools that are required to be a free person.

1. Why should people study history?

2. What is Ravitch’s definition of history?

3. What two things will we be "without," if we don't know history?

4. Why is history more than just dull facts?

5. What is her conclusion as to why we should study history? Give your reason for either agreeing or disagreeing with her.

6. Compare Ravitch's conclusion to McCullough's, by making a T-Chart. List each person's reasons on their side of the chart. Circle the ways they differ in one color and the ways they agree in another color.

You Be the Historianexternal image ani_comptable.gif Follow the directions on this link to find out how historians work. The link shows a Native American buffalo skin painting similar to this one.


After clicking on the link, read the pop-up first. Close the pop-up window and click on the buffalo skin as directed to begin. Then, copy the two questions found to the left of the skin and follow the directions below them to answer them. Lastly, copy the two questions found next in this wiki into your notebook and answer them. What does the buffalo skin activity show you about being a historian? What kind of SOURCE is the buffalo skin?

Buffalo Hide Activity

A Tree's Tale: Open the powerpoint on your desktop to hear the tree's tale. Follow the directions in the powerpoint to complete the activity and to answer the following question. What does this story tell you about history?