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Demosthenes's avatar

What, for you, are the most important areas of history to learn?

Asked by Demosthenes (7049points) 2 weeks ago

This need not only be answered by Americans, but it was central to the topic I was discussing on another forum.

What do you think are the most important areas of history for American students to study? American Revolution, WWII, Civil War, French Revolution, Enlightenment, Roman, Medieval, Latin American, etc? Either broadly or narrowly, what should history majors at American universities be learning?

I recently watched a lecture by British historian Niall Ferguson who bemoans the declining enrollment in history courses at American universities and attributes it to what he considers to be important relevant historical topics no longer being taught in favor of esoteric politically-infused topics about gender and race and other factors in history.

So then what should be taught? I was not a history major. I took only three history courses in college, mostly out of curiosity: History of the Crusades, Early Civilizations (Sumerian, Harappan, etc.) and Roman History (Republic to 2nd century AD).

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11 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

WW2, Holocaust, and what led to both.

Patty_Melt's avatar

Native Americans, their lifestyles, their heroes, their laws. How the Americas changed as explorers brought their own laws, diseases, and superstitions with them.
Transition eras and what caused them. Compare those transitions with the current techno-environment. How has previous changes in social activities prepared us for other transitions, if at all? If not, what can be attributed to our failure to learn adaptability to changes in science, markets, communications?
How have beliefs; superstitious, religious, political, et cetera contributed to the shaping of our current environment?
American history goes back much further than three hundred years. Politics is only a fraction of our history.
Studying history should be colorful. It should go deeper than dates.
Antiques Roadshow is a good example of how history can be more personal, more conversational. There are many items out there with stories behind them which make learning history a richer experience.
History classes should be looked at like a marketing project. “I have this. How do I sell it?”
What came first, attire or accessories?
Who first suggested the use of an air force during the civil war?
When was the first law regarding number of spouses put into effect, and what was the trigger for its consideration?
Who took the first selfie, and what proof supports that?
When was the first submarine used, and was it for a military function?
What tribes were known to be friendly?
How many men are in Hoover dam?
Was Ben Franklin the biggest whore in America during his lifetime? If not, who was?
Students today want the dirt. Provenance is key.
Sell those backstage details. Shake up what they think they already know.

jca2's avatar

I was a history major.

Here in the US, in elementary through high school, every year there’s a different history taught. One year its local history, one year it’s world history, one year it’s US history, etc. I know in 4th grade it’s local history.

In college, I think whatever people are interested in is what’s important. It can get very specific to region (East Asian studies for example). There’s also Art History. That gets very specific too. I remember one of my courses was the art of the Kwakiutl.

When I went to college, gender studies did not count toward a history degree. Gender studies was a liberal arts degree.

Blondesjon's avatar

You can teach history’s lessons until you’re blue in the face. What needs to be taught before anything is critical thinking and true open mindedness.

maybe some shit about mixing metaphors, as well

ucme's avatar

Biblical times, taught by someone who was there…Kirk Douglas.

Zaku's avatar

One of the most important parts to teach, is about the history of corruption patterns in whatever country the students are from, and the world. And how ignorance and disinformation are used to manipulate people.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Why empires fall. Why countries fail. What we can learn from the decline of the Roman and British Empires.

KNOWITALL's avatar

For me, its a concept. Or story. As opposed to timelines and facts.
Like most said, from the beginning how dictators and emperors ruled, wins and losses. All the brutal truths, stop sugarcoating it to these kids. We shouldnt wait until college to get woke!

zenvelo's avatar

Traditional history courses, what you learn in grade school, is generally about the ruling class or group at every stage. We aren’t taught that the Pilgrims were socially disruptive and outcast from England who had no tolerance for anything but Puritan beliefs, they get cast as courageous settlers who peacefully conquered a hostile land for religious freedom.

But it would be more educational to study how the working class is treated or mistreated by whoever is in power. Howard Zinn comes close with A People’s History of the United States.

JLeslie's avatar

This to me is a K-12 question, not a college level question. I would think a history major takes many classes in history? I guess maybe they can specialize in one part of history or one region of the world, i really don’t know. My mother was a history major, and I have no idea what she really studied. I didn’t even know she majored in history until I was in my late 30’s.

I hated history when I was in school. Thank goodness I only had to take one history course in college.

Back to K-12, I think there should be some federal rules regarding what grade a certain part of history is taught. Maybe it is regulated now, I don’t know. What I mean is all 4th graders learn about their own state, all 5th graders learn the states and their capitals, 8th graders WWII, etc. I don’t mean the fed dictates the entire course work for the year, but some topics that must be hit at each grade level.

I think all children in the US should at minimum learn about how WWII happened, slavery, segregation, revolutionary war, civil war, separation of church and state, our relationships in the world with other countries and the geopolitical affects. Basic history for all of the continents. The list goes on and on.

The most important for me I guess is teaching where great harm was done, and understanding what led to it, and hope we don’t repeat it. Second, for America specifically, would be teaching the ideals the founders had for us as a nation and why they sought them.

martianspringtime's avatar

My answer is very vague, and sounds very cynical, but I think the worst parts. All of ‘em. Not to make everyone feel bad or impose generational guilt on kids, but to make people aware. It’s cliche, but if you know history you are less likely to repeat it (or as we see in politics right now, more likely if you are evil!). I love learning history in general, but if we have to limit what is taught in basic classes, it should be the things we can learn the most from. I have no need to know different generals’ names, or even all of the US presidents names, in order or out of order. What sticks with me are the events that happened, that I am seeing happen again, and how surprised everyone seems to see these horrific things happening.

I am obviously talking from an American perspective here, but most school textbooks are written with what seems like the sole purpose of inventing patriots, and not actually teaching. Even when something that frames us in a darker light comes up, it is whisked away with a ‘but now everything is perfect and there is no more racism or bad stuff the end’.

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