Jenny Reeder

Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk: Teaching History
October 24, 2006, 2:57 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I remember sitting in a graduate seminar in my master’s program as we discussed and criticized some early American history scholar. While the discussion was fascinating, I yearned to know how to really do early American history. I began to wonder if my whole graduate career would be spent criticizing rather than doing.

There seems to be a great divide between pedagogy and practice. I wonder if the gap has anything to do with the divide between the academic ivory tower and public history. I’m delighted to learn about Mills Kelly’s study on the value of digital history in secondary ed, and I’m hopeful that that success transfers smoothly and easily to repositories, museums, and historical institutions. Ideally this success will in fact alter the way we view education and the way we are trained to be educators as well as historians.

A couple of points I found especially interesting in the readings:

  • Students seemed to interact more often and more effectively with primary materials when they were digital (Kelly). I believe this is a matter of access. I wonder if it will change the way that students interact with documents first hand. Will they go to repositories and experience the delight of discovering some uncatalogued letter or diary? Will they make the same personal connections online with the past?
  • David Pace makes some great points about the importance of teaching students to think critically. “We recognize that history can potentially teach students to evaluate claims critically, to see complex questions from more than one perspective, to understand how different groups can view the same situation in different ways, to recognize the long-term consequences of actions, and to master dozens of other subtle mental operations that are absolutely necessary for their success as individuals and for the very survival of our society.” I think Mills Kelly gives some great insight into how to do this with digital history courses.
  • I absolutely agree with Cohen & Rosenzweig in their discussion of teaching students how to deal with volume and how to discern. I think these are the most applicable skills and that these skills do indeed cross disciplines.

I tried to find a picture of my old stodgy high school history teacher to post. She used to sit on a desk in the front of the classroom and read from her onion-skin typewritten notes, then test us on rote memorization of American History. She was the quintessential old-school history teacher, and yet there is a dear space in my heart for her. How strangely appropriate that I couldn’t find anywhere a digital image of her… she remains in the annals of the past…


2 Comments so far
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I think you raised a great point with the access issue. I got lucky as a high school student and my history teachers ‘thought outside the box’ with teaching us the materials. They used role-playing, primary documents, movies…anything that might grab our attention. So in those pre-internet days, I’m thankful I had some creative teachers.

Comment by Jennifer Levasseur

I just wanted to follow up on last night’s discussion RE websites and making an argument and drawing a conclusion. Isn’t it very similar to a paper? The content is the same, but basically “on-line.” The ability to introduce photographs, scanned versions of primary source documents, and audio files or film, simply enhance the experience and enrich the learning process, which you could never do with a “paper.” However, the multi-media experience remains linear in the same sense as the paper.

Comment by Dieter

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