If you’ve read my about page, you know that I’m currently majoring in Marketing and Spanish. I didn’t add my Spanish degree until second semester of sophomore year, though (before it had been a minor), so this year, I got stuck doing some required gen eds I normally would’ve taken as a freshman. I had to take a second literature class last semester, and also European Civilization 1.
The lit class was a breeze. The professor was finishing up her doctoral thesis, so we had hardly any homework. (Also, the level of analysis she gave was really more suited to a high school class, in my opinion, but I wasn’t complaining.) But the history class was another story. A lot of majors have to take Euro Civ 1 and 2, so it was a big lecture. And the professor was one of those who likes to scare freshman. She was personable, but she didn’t put up with people not taking notes or having their phones out. And she wasn’t one to give students material, either. She walked in every day and started talking, and we were expected to figure out what was important and what wasn’t. There was no outline or study guide, or even a PowerPoint. She showed photos of artifacts she’d seen and trips she had taken, and that was all. She was your typical freshman professor — like hey kids, it’s time to get serious.
A lot of kids need that. College really is tougher than high school, and it pays to learn how to study early. But I’m a senior. I do feel young and unequipped at times (especially dealing with apartment stuff and other legal matters), but I’m disciplined, and I know how to succeed at school. Going from intense, focused group projects in Marketing and Spanish — things I’m interested in and may actually use — to a history class was not very fun at all.
I get that history is important. But I’ve never really enjoyed it. Which is a little weird — normally students who like English and writing also enjoy history. It makes sense — history is essentially a collection of stories. And it’s stuff that actually happened. They say the truth is stranger than fiction, and I fully believe that. Some of the stuff we’ve done as humans you just can’t make up.
But I just can’t get into history when it’s taught in a class. For one, I have an awful memory. I grasp conceptual stuff fairly easily, and I’m good at learning processes, but please don’t ask me who it was that signed this or that treaty, because I won’t be able to tell you. I’m not good at remembering dates, and while I have a vague timeline of world events in my head, I usually have to look up the details.
The other thing is that in class, there’s too much to cover to be able to get into the interesting stuff. Unless it’s a very specialized class, you can’t get into the personal lives of important people, or how the culture affected certain groups — there is just not enough time. When I was younger, I read a lot of historical fiction, and that’s where any interest I have had in history comes from. I liked learning about how ordinary people lived in certain time periods and how major world events affected their lives. I care about history on the small scale. I want to know how I might have felt if I had lived during colonial America, or during World War II. I read stuff like Soldier in Blue (which I can’t find on Goodreads), Copper Sun, all the American Girl historical novels, and the Dear America and Royal Diaries series. Books like those, more than anything, are where I learned the things I remember about history. It has to be relate-able.
Sometimes I wonder if more of history should be taught like that. It’s probably not very practical, because I know not everyone loves reading like I do. Some people are interested in big picture history, and some people learn best when listening to someone else. But there’s a lot to be said for looking at the details and making it interesting. History is easier to remember when you can imagine it happening to you.
I spent a lot of my Christmas break studying for the Euro Civ II CLEP test, so I could test out of the second half of the class. There were no other options than the same professor I had last semester, and I didn’t really want to waste 3 hours a week on a history class when I’ll also be doing senior projects. History, for me, is one thing that’s best learned on my own.
What has your experience with learning history been like?