In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — the book that launched a cultural phenomenon — J.K. Rowling uses the character of the young Harry to take a shot at the subject of history. As Harry is describing his experiences at Hogwarts, he recounts:
Easily the most boring class was History of Magic, which was the only one taught by a ghost. Professor Bins has been very old indeed when he had fallen asleep in front of the staffroom fire and got up next morning to teach, leaving his body behind him. Binns droned on and on while they scribbled down names and dates, and got Emeric the Evil and Uric the Oddball mixed up… (emphasis mine)
What is history?
A ghost droning on about names and dates.
As a teacher who has strived to reclaim the subject of history, it has been very difficult to combat this perception and the resulting conclusion that history is useless.
Certainly, most of us experienced history that way as kids.
I myself abandoned the humanities and went into the sciences because of it.
Coming back to the subject as an adult, however, I gradually came to understand that this view of history is tragically wrong.
In the HistoryAtOurHouse program, I have been successful in showing my younger students how to think of history in a different way. They learn to see the past not as a world apart from the present, but rather as a way to better understand the world we live in. For instance, they understand that modern constitutional democracy is rooted in the innovative thinking of the ancient Athenians, and they appreciate how, despite a thousand-year Dark Age, that kind of thinking was revived in the Renaissance and brought to America by Europeans in the Age of Discovery, ultimately giving rise to the United States of America.
Now, in my new course “Be Your Own Historian,” I will help adults connect with history in a meaningful way as well.
You can overcome years wasted with conventional teachers and historians, who sadly deserve to be mocked for robbing history of its true value and significance.
You can learn to make history as a vital part of your own intellectual life.
“Be Your Own Historian” starts March 21, and will run as a monthly seminar. General registration opens next Wednesday, February 24. I’ll be sharing the details with my mailing list first, so be sure to join up. Or “like” A First History for Adults on Facebook to get your news there.