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Alexandra

Reading and teaching history today

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One of my favorite history professors say, "History IS dates," by which he means that to know why something happenend you have to know when it happened, what came when. This is Ancient Greek history, and not knowing when the Peace of Callias happened is very frustrating; were there 1 or 2 peaces, how did that affect Persian-Athenian relations (and therefore Athenian-Spartan relations)?

I think too often dates are presented as this dull, uncontrovertable list that must simply be memorized "because." If that's true, then there really is no point in knowing dates, because you could just look them up. But because dates are attatched to events that have antecedents and consequences, the dates are important in themselves. (The Romans knew this: when they made up dates they made them darn significant: the founding of the Republic traditionally happens in 510 B.C., cooincidently the same year that the Pisistratid tyrants were expelled from Athens. Hmmm.)

This is a great topic ( can't believe I missed it, thanks for bringing it back up Juliette). I too fall on the side of "interesting for it's own sake" rather than "interesting because I can apply it to my life." I wonder though how that can be communicated. I love Battement Cloche's plan; hard to implement in a semester long course though...

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I also love history because it's interesting and because it's relevant.

Also, it is so much richer when we can learn it the way Battement Cloche is -- tasting it along the way.

Even in our field of interest, isn't it more important to know that La Sylphide predated Giselle, which predated Swan Lake, which predated Sleeping Beauty, blah, blah, blah? Knowing specific dates is helpful, but on a more generalized level, not imperative.

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Then I will try to explain.

First in France everybody is learning the same program (one by level), wherever we are living or whatever school we are going to; and the method is almost always the same; it is decided by the government. You cannot choose what History you want to study until your 3rd year in University (if you study History in University).

- Children under 11 are studying during 5 years everything from the "Prehistory" to nowadays (ancient civilizations and then mainly in France and Europe), with illustrated papers, which tell them about the main events and the main characters.

- Then, in the French equivalent of Junior High School, they are studying the same thing, but with more details (prehistory and ancient civilizations the first year, medieval erea the second year, 16th until 19th century the third year and 20th century the fourth one). The method is different: teachers give the main elements to the children and besides make them study documents: literary texts, history texts, pictures....Each time is related to Art and Literary History.

-Then in High School we mainly study 19th and 20th centuries, except the first year where we study one more time the main events of History (birth of democraty in Greece, "Renaissance", French Revolution, Romanticism...). The other two years we study in details 19th and above all 20th centuries and the method is once again a little different: more attention paid to documents and new exercices: "dissertation" (long writitngs)...

We don't study only french History but world History (only main events in the other countries).

And there is also a new fashion which is, like in your countries, to study the past regarding the present (what could the past teach us?)

I realize that I use a lot of words without knowing their English translations and therefore will try tomorrow to be more precise

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BattementCloche, thanks for reviving that thread, I had missed it last August... :)

Juliette, it's interesting to see that the French history schedules have changed a little bit since I was in high school (1988-1991), mostly for the first year of high school ("seconde"-

if I remember correctly, when I was there it was mostly about the 18th and 19th century).

By the way, in France in junior high school and high school, history is taught by the

same teachers as geography- I wonder if it's the same in other countries?

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Wow! This thread certainly has snowballed since I was on last.

Juliette, thank-you for the explanation of the French system of teaching History; I've been considering going to a University somewhere in Europe, France being on the top of the list. :)

I agree with Alexandra in that I’ve never found history boring. I think it’s the same with many kids, but their interest was stifled by the way history is presented to them, as dates and names that need to be memorized for tests, and then forgotten. Also, anything related to 'school' (the evil word!) seems to have a negative impact on kids, so in order to capture their attention and to keep it, you have to really be creative in how you present the whole idea of 'history'.

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Indeed Estelle the schedule changed about two years before I went to High Scool (I began High School in 1997, thus it must have been around 1995) and it was interesting to see that my "classe préparatoire" (it's a particular kind of class after High School, perhaps Estelle could better explain) teacher told us to take a look at former High School History books, whose schedule was for some points better.

BattementCloche, French universities are often good (and Sorbonne's teachers are very interesting and there are a lot of foreign students) and if you like History, it's really interesting because you don't really have to study another subject (except a little geography and English the first two years). I began my university course only in 3rd year (because I made this "classe préparatoire" during two years before), but I can tell you how it is working the first two years.

First year of University: Modern Times (from 16th to the end of 19th century) and Contemporary erea (19th and 20th centuries)

Second year: Antiquity and Medieval times.

Third year: you study the four main periods (that I mentionned before), but you choose one particular aspect in each one. For instance, Louis XIV's reign or 16th century England in Modern Times, 2nd World War or Cold War in the Contemporary Erea.....

Fourth year: you choose only one of the four main periods and you are making a very specialized study about one aspect. It's a research work.

That is for university. Estelle, I let you explain what is not really correct or clear in my text.

Edited by Juliette

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Thank you, Juliette, for explaining how History is taught at French Universities. After reading that, I wonder if I should even bother with anywhere else...

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Much as France has the Revolution and the Napoleonic Period as transforming experiences for the entire nation, the America has the American Civil War as a similar transformative and universal period in its history. Practically all that came before and all that came after has connection to that period. Using that as a point of view, two teachers and I developed an extracurricular program of interdisciplinary study of the Civil War. It quickly took off, and has been seriously engaged in two different school districts as a methodology for reaching understanding in approaching an area of history. We have found our students arguing seriously and earnestly that things that Americans had long forgotten in their heritages from other lands, as the Crusades, were manifested during the Civil War. When they take this route, they are often rushing back to sources (They have learned from experience that primary is best) to look for materials relating to the Crusades. The librarians hate us.

"What do you mean you want the "Layes of Blondel of Richarde ye Kinge?"

Sometimes I have them over to my house, and we talk about almost anything under the sun, and suddenly I'll drop into the conversation, "How does that sound like Napoleon's experience at the Battle of Austerlitz?" They all hit my bookshelves for sources! They know not to take my word for anything, but look and conclude themselves.

This is no grand curriculum, but it IS an effective tool for getting students to learn history. It DOES, however, require a lot of field work, and extracurricular activity.

(PS. BattementCloche, George S. Patton said it better, more briefly, and more pungently!)

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Is that a reference to my horrendously long quote?

I meant to change it sooner...I'll do that next time I'm on. My apologies.

~*~Rosalind

Sed quid duces et principes nominem cum legiones scribat Cato saepe alacres in eum locum profectas unde redituras se non abitrarentur? Pari animo Lacedaemonii in Thermopylis occiderunt, in quos Simonides:

Dic, hospes, Spartae nos te hic vidisse iacentis,

dum sanctis patriae legibus obsequimur.

Viros commemoro. Qualis tandem Lacaena? Quae, cum filium in proelium misisset et interfectum audissest, “Idcirco,” inquit, “genueram ut esset qui pro patria mortem non dubitaret occumbere.”

…Admoneor ut aliquid etiam de humatione et sepultura dicendum existimem…Socrates, rogatus a Critone quem ad modum sepeliri vellet, “Multam vero,” inquit, “operam, amici, frustra consumpsi. Critoni enim nostro persuasi me hinc avolaturum, neque mei quicquam relicturum…Sed, mihi crede, (Crito), nemo me vestrum, cum hinc escessero, consequetur. …

Durior Dogenes Cyncius proici se iussit inhumatum. Tuam amici, “Volucribusne et feris?” “Minime vero,” inquit; “sed bacillum propter me, quo abigam, ponitote.” “Qui pteris?” illi; “non enim senties.” “Quid igitur mihi ferarum laniatus oberit nihil sentienti?””

—Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes 1.42.101-43, 104, excerpts)

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Is this quote better? :wallbash:

~*~Rosalind

"The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that benefit anyone?"

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BattementCloche, before you run off applying to French universities, a word of caution: as far as I understand it (and Estelle and Juliette must correct me) the style of teaching in French universities is much more 'old-fashioned' than in American ones. Most classes are frontal lectures and are run in an authoritarian style, at least compared to American universities. My husband is in his first year of grad studies here in the US and he says it is quite noticable that the foreigners (except for brash Israelis like himself) are not that used to partiicpating and initiating class room discussion.

I think you wrote that you are home-schooled. It would be a big shock to your system to jump into the Old World style of instruction.

Imagine learning history like we learn ballet!!! :blushing:

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Thank you for the tip, GWTW!

Maj. Mel, What did George S. Patton say? This must be that "How does that sound like Napoleon's experience at the Battle of Austerlitz?" trick you were speaking of. :helpsmilie: Give the least amount of information possible, and you've got their attention for as long as it takes to tell them the whole story!

In my new History of English Literature book (English Literature: Its History and its Significance for the Life of the English-Speaking World, A Text-Book for Schools by William J. Long, Ph.D.), I found the preface, of all things, striking in that the author seems to know the reasons for the problems of children not liking literature or history.

(…) Indicates portions I have not included due to length.

… Throughout this book we have remembered Roger Ascham's suggestion, made over three centuries ago and still pertinent, that "'tis a poor way to make a child love study by beginning with the things which he naturally dislikes." We have laid emphasis upon the delights of literature; we have treated books not as mere instruments of research--which is the danger in most of our studies--but rather as instruments of enjoyment and of inspiration…

…many authors who are and ought to be included in this history need not be studied in the class room. A text-book is not a catechism but a storehouse, in which one finds what he wants, and some good things beside. Few classes will find time to study Blake or Newman, for instance; but in nearly every class there will be found one or two students who are attracted by the mysticism of Blake or by the profound spirituality of Newman. Such students should be encouraged to follow their own spirits, and to share with their classmates the joy of their discoveries. And they should find in their text-book the material for their own study and reading.

A third suggestion relates to the method of teaching literature; and here it might be well to consider the word of a great poet,--that if you would know where the ripest cherries are, ask the boys and the blackbirds. It is surprising how much a young person will get out of the Merchant of Venice, and somehow arrive at Shakespeare's opinion of Shylock and Portia, if we do not bother him too much with notes and critical directions as to what he ought to seek and find. Turn a child and a donkey loose in the same field, and the child heads straight for the beautiful spots where brooks are running and birds singing, while the donkey turns as naturally to weeds and thistles. In our study of literature we have perhaps too much sympathy with the latter, and we even insist that the child come back from his own quest of the ideal to join us in our critical companionship. In reading many text-books of late, and in visiting many class rooms, the writer has received the impression that we lay too much stress on second-hand criticism, passed down from book to book; and we set our pupils to searching for figures of speech and elements of style, as if the great books of the world were subject to chemical analysis. This seems to be a mistake, for two reasons: first, the average young person has no natural interest in such matters; and second, he is unable to appreciate them. He feels unconsciously with Chaucer:

   

And as for me, though that my wit be lytë,    

On bookës for to rede I me delytë.

Indeed, many mature persons (including the writer of this history) are often unable to explain at first the charm or the style of an author who pleases them; and the more profound the impression made by a book, the more difficult it is to give expression to our thought and feeling. To read and enjoy good books is with us, as with Chaucer, the main thing; to analyze the author's style or explain our own enjoyment seems of secondary and small importance. However that may be, we state frankly our own conviction that the detailed study and analysis of a few standard works--which is the only literary pabulum given to many young people in our schools--bears the same relation to true literature that theology bears to religion, or psychology to friendship. One is a more or less unwelcome mental discipline; the other is the joy of life.

The writer ventures to suggest, therefore, that, since literature is our subject, we begin and end with good books; and that we stand aside while the great writers speak their own message to our pupils. In studying each successive period, let the student begin by reading the best that the age produced; let him feel in his own way the power and mystery of Beowulf, the broad charity of Shakespeare, the sublimity of Milton, the romantic enthusiasm of Scott; and then, when his own taste is pleased and satisfied, a new one will arise,--to know something about the author, the times in which he lived…

All of this is pertaining to literature, but really, most of it corresponds directly to history. Personally, I think that the best way to learn history is to read books and biographies, etc. written during the time they relate to; it is very easy for a modern author to criticise what people thought and did during the time he/she is writing about, but if you read something written by someone who actually lived the history, you get an insight to how they thought and how they regarded things.

I am afraid I might have repeated myself there... sorry!

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Actually, Rosalind, if you turn a child and a donkey loose in the same field, the child will head for the donkey!

And what Patton said, in an address to his officers in September 1944, after the Liberation of Paris was in contradistinction to Simonides' "Tell the Spartans that we lie here, obedient to their wishes." Edited, what he said was:

No (invective) ever won a war by dying for his country.  He won it by making some OTHER poor dumb (invective) die for HIS country.  I see in the papers that we're "holding the line"... Well, we're not HOLDING any(profanity)thing.  We are ADVANCING, and we won't (obscenity) stop until we get to (profanity) Berlin and catch that (profanity) paperhanger and his (collective invective).  Then we're gonna grab 'em by the throat, and we're gonna (GROSS INDECENCY!)  That's our mission.  That's all.

I think that there was a little more bad language in it, but that's the tenor of it.

And Napoleon's experience at Austerlitz was the sudden realization that the Austro-Russian forces were so close to his front, found by direct personal reconnaissance of the enemy's deployment on his left. A secondary realization came about when the Allies attempted to attack his right, but in so doing exposed their own right flank, allowing the Emperor to bypass Pratzen and cut off the entire column after it had advanced.

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Totally off topic:

:offtopic:

BattementCloche, if you are studying WWI at the moment (or just reading some War poetry), I think you would really enjoy Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. It's an autobiography of a young Englishwoman who was supposed to go up (or is it down?) to Cambridge just when the War broke out. I think it was recently discussed on the board.

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Maj. Mel, thank-you for the history lesson and the (albeit very much edited) quote, and thank-you, GWTW, for the book recommendation!

Perhaps instead of going to University and studying History I could go to a Canadian University and study Political Science (ah, politics, the fourth great love of my life next to history, literature, and ballet!). Then I could go to a University somewhere in Europe and study Computer Sciences... to Rome to study Latin and to Greece to study ancient Greek (you have to learn the languages where they originated! I could sit next to the very spot where Antony said his spech over the dead Julius Caesar's body, and read all of Cicero's thirteen orations denouncing Antony as a traitor!!!)...

And for history, I could just log on to Ballet Talk and have you educate me! Maj. Mel could write up biographies of the people I'm learning about, and everyone else could teach me the facts and recommend good books to read. Then, once a week, we should all get together and have good long arguments about history... :D:):D

P.S. GWTW, "In Flanders Fields" has been my favourite poem ever since I read it when I was 5. I memorized it at age 8 and it has stuck with me ever since; that's the only reason I used it in my signature. I'm actually studying the Medieval Ages right now, but thanks for the book recommendation, anyway :wink:

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Battement Cloche, indeed, as GWTW said, the French way of teaching is "old-fashioned". The professor makes a frontal lecture and students usually don't participate during his class (anyway we often are too many). But, beside the professor's class (1 hour, sometimes two), you are attending a TD class ("Travaux dirigés"), which last two hours and complements the professor's lecture. You are in a small group, with a less-qualified teacher, and you are expected to participate: we are studying documents and it is the students who are explaining them or who are making an oral presentation about a specific aspect.

I don't know how American universities are exactly working (during the classes)and how different it can seem.

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Juliette, my deepest apologies for not responding sooner. Due to computer problems :rolleyes:, I haven't been on in nearly three weeks!

Thank-you for the briefing on how the French system works. I'm actually not sure if I will be able to take History courses once I get into University...there's too many other courses I want to take! Political Sciences, Computer Sciences, a Second Language (French), perhaps more languages (Latin, Greek, Russian, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic languages and Hawiian are all high on my list of 127 languages I want to learn). History would be a must if I decided to get a degree in Archaeology, which I am considering, but otherwise I'm not sure if I could fit it in.

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At the risk of turning this into a chat - if you major in Archeology, you will probably be required to study an ancient language too. :D

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A chat? Oh dear.... :blink:

Only adding to the risk of turning this into a chat :wub: :

Yay! Another reason to get another degree. "Mom, Dad, I'm really sorry, but if I want to get a degree in Archaeology I have to get one is History and Ancient Languages too! I'm afraid you'll have to dredge up more money for me..."

More than likely I'll just have to get five or six jobs that will keep me going around the clock in order to pay for it. :rolleyes:

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To (hopefully) reverse the direction this is going in (full speed ahead to a chat!)...

Because this thread is entitled Reading and Teaching History Today, I suppose that it is acceptable to discuss good historical literature?

If so, I would like to inquire as to whether or not anyone has read Vimy by Pierre Berton... April 9th was Vimy Ridge Day, commemorating the day in 1917, when, at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, the Canadian troops captured Vimy Ridge in an early dawn raid. Wonderfully written, well researched, and very insightful (though, a warning to those faint of heart: it can be gory, like all war books), I loved this book, just as I do all of Pierre Berton's books. He writes as though he was there, and the way in which he describes the conditions the soldiers had to endure, day after day, month after month, is such that you can feel the rats biting your legs and lice crawling up your back. Of course, I do NOT like that part (all I like about war books is the strategy involved), but it really makes you appreciate what these men (and boys) went through and the things they did in these conditions.

All (moderate) goryness aside, This book was really wonderful. It explains the differences between the Canadians, French, and British armies, and why one army with four divisions conquered when the other armies with 20 divisions couldn't. Speckled with letters from the soldiers to their parents and first-hand accounts, I would reccomend this book to anyone who does not mind a moderate level of goryness and who is interested in this part of history (or who just plain likes the strategy and the personalities behind it all, like I do).

~*~Rosalind

P.S. Is goryness even a word? :P

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Yes, indeed, in fact Mic31 sent me a copy when I was in hospital a while back. It's a good read, and contains not only the strategy but the combat doctrine of the time, and also the tactics. The book makes them readily understandable even if you've never dealt with military history. And it's well-supplied with first-person recollections of persons involved with the battle, revealing, presumably, something about the ways that they were thinking, but making psychohistory is always dangerous. But that's not Berton's fault, it's something the reader has to be disciplined about. And yes, "goryness" is a word, if a little archaic. It's been largely succeeded by "goriness".

(BTW, you could always do Paleontological Archaeology and end with Neanderthals - there are only so many ways to spell "ugh".)

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Yes, I thought it would probably be 'goriness' and not 'goryness', but then I like all things "archaic". If I had my way, I would do all my school work in Olde Inglis...but then my mother would not be able to read it.

Then again, that is a good point--she wouldn't be able to read it...

(BTW, I could always do Paleontological Archaeology and end with Neanderthals--there are only so many ways to spell "ugh". But how would that look on my resumé? "Master's Degree in how to spell UGH". Oh, so many people would want to hire me then...)

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About as much use as a dance degree :P

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