What is history? Why teach it?

The above are possibly the two toughest questions that a history teacher or a historian has ever tried to answer. What is history? Some might say that history is what has happened in the past. It's an interpretation by a writer of past events. It's written by the winners. But what is, specifically, history. Here is an interpretation by Philip D. Jordan, a professor at the University of Minnisota, of what history is that I am partial to:

"history is an aggregation of truths, half-truths, semi-truths, fables, myths, rumors, prejudices, personal narratives, gossip, and official prevarications. It is a canvas upon which thousands of artists throughout the ages have splashed their conceptions and interpretations of a day and an era. Some motifs are grotesque and some are magnificent."

What is history? If a student asked this question my response to them would be, its experiences or just experience, yours and everyone else's who bothered to record it in some way. Imagine your day to day life with no memories. Each day you wake up there is nothing from the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and so on and so on. History is basically all we have learned or could learn. It also includes all the different aspects in the above quote. History is not necessarily the truth or accurate.

Why teach it? Because as the "little dragon" once said, and I paraphrase, all knowledge is self-knowledge. Who is the little dragon? He is a philosopher, of martial arts, speciifically Jeet Kune Do, and his name is Bruce Lee. Although Lee's thought may seem like a cop-out, in other words, its a thought that might be considered an umbrella term which all other reasons may fall under, it is at its heart a simple truth. Afterall, in any subject the purpose is to get students to apply that knowledge to their own lives and what better way to do that than to come to a better understanding of themselves.

Note:The quote above I found in a book I would highly recommend for any teacher who has a parent ask them, what will my child learn in social studies? The book is The Vital Past: Writings on the Uses of History, edited by Stephen Vaughn. It is a collection of essays and addresses by different historians regarding the relevence of studying and teaching history.



Below is a video from You Tube posted by Joanna Hayes. It is her interpretation as to why it is important to teach history. I posted here because I am partial to the quality of the visuals, the ideas expressed about history's importance and I love Viva La Vida by Coldplay.