Monday, February 14, 2011

Is History Boring To You?

I'm diving in to a new book - and it's not fiction. Instead, I'm expanding my history graduate thesis into a full-length book. The topic is the German POW camp at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, during World War II. With the exception of a few items, I have all I need to write this book, thanks to the tenacity of the Fort Robinson Museum curator who saved me the trouble of going to the D.C. archives!

Right now, I'm trying to figure out what kind of narrative I want to portray, and I need to decide if I should take a more scholarly approach or a more "popular" history approach. I think a blend of the two is what is needed, and I intend to make my narrative "user-friendly" - i.e. not boring.

Chatsworth, England  - Oct. '08

But I'm curious. Is history boring to you? Why? Is it because you were told to memorize dates and names of major historical figures? Did your teacher have no interest in the subject and make it boring by virtue of their nice, monotone voice? Or did you have a great teacher who made history come alive for you?

I guess I'd like to get a bit of a perspective on how the average person - i.e. those who didn't go to school for the subject - views history.

What say you?


  1. When I was in school, it was boring facts about war battles and so on. Your thesis sounds very interesting, and one of my all time favorite novels is Summer of My German Soldier, which has some similarities to what you're doing.

  2. I love history when it's presented from a human interest perspective....telling the personal stories of the people who lived through historic events makes it much more relevant - and thereby more interesting - than someone droning on about battle names and dates. I think that's where history teachers go wrong and why so many people say they hate history, because it was presented to them in such a boring, dry manner.

    What a great idea for a book, I'd read it for sure!

  3. Catherine - I have heard of that novel before. In fact, I actually wrote a romantic novel set in the German POW camp at Fort Rob during the war, but never managed to sell it. :-)

    Betsy - You nailed it. Giving it a human interest perspective is the key to making it interesting and fun. I definitely want to add that to my non-fiction book.

  4. I've always loved History. I think one of the major layman's source for history lessons is the History Channel, which I adore. Sounds like a fascinating project :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  5. Sarah - That's one reason I miss cable - The History Channel (oh, and probably Turner Classic Movies!). I loved watching stuff on there.

  6. I love history. However, I think a lot of people are put off during their schooldays because they have to learn boring dates.

    I studied social and economic history and loved learning how certain events had a bearing on real people's lives.

  7. I think that when history is told like a good story, it is very appealing. The only way it was ever taught when I was in school was by giving us names and dates to memorize. Boring-and we weren't inspired to want to know more.

    I applaud you for writing about WWII history-it is a much needed area of history for people to know about, but because it is fading into the past a lot of people are not up to date on their facts.

    (P.S. I'll be emailing you later today with a funny story) :)

  8. Shirley - I think social history is SO interesting! I would much rather learn about those types of things than boring ol' dates. :-) And you're absolutely right - we learn at a young age not to like history simply because we are not TAUGHT right.

    Valerie - Agreed. I have read some history books that are far better than most novels. That's why I really want to make this book different than the "scholarly" history out there. -- Looking forward to your email!

  9. I love history and am especially interested in WW1 at the moment.

    My son's favourite subject at school was History and when I met his teacher I could see why he was so inspired. Listening to him talk about the subject made is come alive. It's a shame there aren't more teachers with that incredible ability.

  10. Definitely having a human interest element in the telling makes history so much more engaging. It's those personal stories that we can somehow relate to that bring the past alive.

  11. Debs - I am so glad your son had a good teacher! That makes all the difference in the world. If I had more patience, I would teach history. :-)

    Joanne - I agree. Personal stories really bring it to life. I'm so fortunate in that for this particular book, I have several personal accounts - letters, a diary, and interviews. Woo hoo!

  12. I love history! We went on loads of fun field trips as a homeschooling family that were so life-like to me. I would return home and act them out for hours on end, lining out my brother and sisters to act in whatever historical drama we could conjure up based on the actual events. Costumes, props, etc. were all carefully considered and arranged. My parents often remember those days by saying they'd look up to see Martha and George Washington, or some other famous historical personality, walking across the front lawn! My sisters and I were slaves working in a field and my brother an overseer with a whip after I'd read Uncle Tom's Cabin. I never could understand as a kid why my dad would walk off convulsing with silent laughter after peering out to see what we were up to outdoors. :)

  13. And, we're carrying on the tradition with our own kids. We had so much fun a few years ago studying about the WWII home front in England. We made ration books, ate meals composed of old ration-based recipes, designed our own bomb shelters, and played air-raid. I had as much fun as the boys did, diving under the table when we heard the siren. I learned an entirely different side to the war story than I'd heard growing up, as the home front here in England was radically different to the American home front. I couldn't believe how many people died in London during the war; I had learned about it in world history as a teenager but it really struck home to me in those months of learning with my kids. Sorry for monopolising your comment feed. Oops. :)

  14. I absolutely love history, particularly when the smaller aspects are brought to light: buttons rather than zippers, what the light looked like, the songs that were playing in the background. Brings it all to life.


  15. Erin - Oh WOW. That is SO NEAT that you are making history come alive like that for your kids! That is MUCH better than just reading those ol' textbooks. :-) Good for you!

    Pearl - Agreed. I love those seemingly "insignificant" aspects of history, too. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. Martin Santos12:36 PM

    I got several boring and crazy history teatchers. One of them were communist and wanted to show a communist view of history - but she never readed Marx (Karl or Groucho either. No sense of humour at all) so the results were just terrible. But I love history - learning by myself.

    The dates, names, etc, aren't the important thing. The facts are important. And I think that the details of daily life can bring much more information than just a sequence os dates.

  17. I tried to leave a comment, and blogger ate it. :) Here goes again...

    I had the same experience as a lot of people here. Hated history class b/c it was memorizing lists of presidents and battle dates. Seems like the only people we studied were kings, presidents, generals, and the occasional explorer. Hardly any women. Nothing at all about how events impacted people's lives, or how people lived, what they believed, what customs they had.

    Then I discovered historical fiction, and realized I love history after all. :)

    I agree with those here who say that the personal story approach is the most intriguing. Very exciting to hear about your new project!

  18. Martin - Boring history teachers are the worst! It's unfortunate that they choose such an exciting subject and MAKE it boring.

    Christine - Oh, historical fiction is what got me interested in history in the first place, too. I devoured historical fiction from
    6th grade on and never looked back. :-)

  19. I was homeschooled, but in the early days we mostly used textbooks. History was still my favorite subject even then - but when we switched over to doing a lot more reading, both fiction and nonfiction, my interest in history really increased. It was so much more interesting than filling in the blanks in a textbook! I've always told my mom I learned more that first year we used a literature-based curriculum than I had in all the previous years put together. Researching for my writing has led me even further - I realized at some point that the only way to find certain details was to read personal accounts, and I found them fascinating.

  20. Elizabeth - I think you're right - personal accounts really make the details of normal, everyday life come alive. :-)

  21. I don't know if I qualify as "average", since I am now an amateur historian, but as a homeschool mom, I have learned a little about how to present history. To me, history is about the people who lived it--their stories and their lives. The dates are only incidental, a way to locate events time-wise as though on a map.

    When I was in school, I didn't know I loved history, because "history" meant "history class" which was dry dates and events that had no meaning to me. I did love my Texas history class, though, because we learned the stories of the people.

    I am so envious of your research and the book you are writing!! How awesome!! I look forward to hearing more :)

  22. I'm with Tamara, history is about real people and their stories ... their wisdom and their misstates, their aspirations and creations -- some good some not. I loved history when I was a kid and still love reading it and traveling to places where great events took place: Gettysburg, Versailles, Byzantium. The sad thing is that I don't think we learn enough from the mistakes of the past and keep repeating them.

    A funny definition of history, though I cannot remember where I first heard it: history is just stories about dead celebrities.


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