This is the first class notes post.
These are the notes I used to prepare for class. There is no guarantee that the actual class followed that outline; I will jump around in order to keep the class lively. Contained within these notes are the major themes that had to be covered.
Posted notes are no substitute for the class experience, but if you are absent, they can help you see the basics of what you missed.
What is history?
Ask kids to write down their answer.
Tell every single kid they are wrong in the most egregious way possible.
Learning goal one: Being wrong isn’t the end of the world.
Smart kids are often afraid to participate if they don’t absolutely know the answer. I want you to be daring. Take risks.
Answer: History is ARGUMENT.
Goal: Know the past, understand the present, make good choices for the future.
History is argument because we have to make judgments about the past based on incomplete evidence.
History is argument because different people will make different analogies from the past to the present.
History is argument because we use our analogies to convince others about the best choices for the future.
The past is hard to know. We don’t have a time machine and must rely on sources and indirect evidence.
This shrouds history in a fog.
Something happened. But the who/what/where/why/when/ how may be impossible discover.
Lacking that time machine, historians have to rely on primary sources. But the source record is incomplete.
Primary source: Created by an eyewitness at the same time as an even happened.
Secondary source: Created by a non-witness based on eyewitness accounts.
Fog o’ history drawing.
May be overlooked or just plain wrong; people often are inaccurate in their observations. Let’s see how you guys do with this. In a minute, I’m going to show you a video. Your job is to observe how many completed passes the white team makes. I’ll bet over half of you observe poorly and will come up with the wrong answer. You’ll be focuses when we watch, but most of us don’t go through life that focuses. I’m telling you: even with the focus, over half of you will get it wrong.
How many completed passes?
Have kids divide up.
Sometimes observers miss the forest for the trees. Sometimes too much focus means they miss something else. Sometimes people feel peer pressure to modify their observation.
How many of you know what you had for breakfast on Thanksgiving 2007? Were you there? Did you observe what you ate? Why don’t you remember?
Often, people don’t think that something is important enough to write it down. This may be changing with new technology which makes source creation so much easier.
Sometimes the people who observed and remembered an event are illiterate.
18th Century Japanese architecture
1800s court records from Georgia
Ripon, Wisconsin Jury records
Sometimes historians can’t access it.
Diary in some random grandma’s attic.
So now we have records. But what if the records don’t help us penetrate the fog o’ history?
Historians have two tasks when looking at records:
Validity: Is it real?
Bush Guard records (Story here)
Fake Obama Kenya birth certificate (Snopes here and here)
Reliability: Is the source honest?
We do this all the time.
Assess boyfriend honesty. Your parent’s assessing curfew excuses.
What factors do we consider?
Even then, historians’ work is just beginning.
Problem of bias (Eyeglasses on historian)
Hard to beat
We all have them
Zeitgeist (reused vocabulary term!)
But a good historian does her absolute best to set that aside.
Possible? (You can’t stop it; you can only hope to contain it!)
Historical analysis of an event that accounts for ALL the available evidence.
Interpetation is not the same as opinion
Sublesson Two: Your elementary teachers lied to you.
All opinions are not equal.
Why do we teach it if it is not true?
What is the danger?
Respect people’s right to have an opinion (rah rah America!)
But be critical of those opinions.
Interpretations will always triumph over blue cheese. It’s Darwinian evolution.
Poor opinions make it hard to understand the true nature of the present and will lead to poor choices.
If your historical opinion is that all people make decisions based on their selfish economic self interest, you’ll have a hard time understanding opposition to the proposed health care plan. Sometimes people are motivated by a range of things.
Sometimes the missionary isn’t trying to economically suppress you. He may be trying to save your soul.
Review interpretation (write down in notes)
Here’s the rub: AVAILABLE evidence. What if something new comes down the pike? We may have to rethink.
Historians make the best possible interpretation based on the evidence BUT also must be ready to change their minds when new evidence becomes available.
Intelligence = changing behavior in response to new information.
Stubborn refusal to change your mind is not a good thing.
“I’ve made up my mind – don’t confuse me with the facts.”
We often lose that idea in a Jerry Springer world.
It’s also a pride thing. Some people cling to bad ideas simply because they can’t admit they were ever wrong. This pride makes it difficult to even consider conflicting evidence.
Write down a situation in which you changed your mind. How did it feel to re-interpret the world?
When assessing the present, we have a broad range of historical interpretations to draw on. What past situations are most ANALAGOUS to our current situation?
Buhl vs. Tueting on Gulf War II:
Is it Japan or Vietnam?
Could we use force to install a stable democratic society?
Argued over analogy.
Buhl was right. I was wrong.
Reason: Absolute, soul-crushing apocalypse experienced by the Japanese. The Iraqi people do not feel defeated (World War One Germany analogy).
Health care debate:
What foreign country’s experience is most analogous to America’s situation?
What economic impact of government-subsidized health care have? Can we predict this based on the economic impact of past government programs?
Obama = Hitler.
Bad argument. It’s based on a faulty understanding of the past AND an ignorance of what is actually proposed.
If the best interpretations and analogies rise to the top in the Darwinian marketplace of ideas, then we are well equipped to make choices. But analogies are never perfect. Philosophies vary. Argument never goes away.
IS THERE TRUTH?
With all the difficulties associated with writing accurate, analogous, and predictive history, some say we shouldn’t even try.
Postmodernists say that there isn’t a truth. All truth is manufactured. You may have some of those professors in college.
I’m not one of those guys.
Just because something is hard or impossible doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
I’d love to be a perfect teacher. Ain’t gonna happen. Should I say “screw it, I’m showing videos and playing solitaire?”
In past history classes, you may have been expected to memorize facts without interpreting them or arguing over them.
Some teachers fear that if we teach you to question things, you’ll go over the edge and deny that there is any reality at all:
“All history is bunk!” – Henry Ford
Or worse, that you’ll challenge your teachers! Great googly-moogly.
I like it when you challenge me. This isn’t to say that I won’t challenge back. But if you have better evidence, interpretation or analogies, I’ll change my mind.
Meg and the war.
Nick and Sweet Home Alabama
Camila on rape prevention strategies
Don’t give up on truth. Do the hard work to penetrate that fog.