Things that would have made history more interesting for you.

I came across thisand thought, “Damn. That would have made high school history so much more interesting, but there was zero chance of anyone adding it in.”

Do you have any bits or pieces that would have made history more interesting. Any history.

To have really good historical novels to read. My school system kind of got this right, with integrated units starting in elementary school and a combined literature/history block in high school. Still, there was too much textbook, too much lecture, and mostly zero interest for us as students.

The best part of history is the story of people, who they were, and why they did what they did. What is taught and tested is names, dates, and places - the boring parts, but easy to test.

History would have been more interesting if history people had ever done anything besides fight wars and discover America.

The History Channel has just started showing a program called “10 Things You Didn’t Know About History” and it’s hosted by Henry Rollins. Never been much of a fan of his, but apparently he’s a huge history buff and does a good job hosting the show.

My first HS History teacher. He was a practicing lawyer with double degrees in law and history; at one point the HS had asked him to cover for a teacher who got sick and he stayed.

On the first day he told us “the stuff we’re supposed to cover is not part of the University Admissions Exam and a lot of it is stuff you’re supposed to have seen before or to see again in 12th grade. So, rather than ask you to remember which exact date the Battle of Waterloo took place in and whether it was a Thursday, I plan on teaching you how to learn about History.”

We spent a month on the Prehistory, each day we’d look at a different archeological site and not necessarily the ones we’d ever heard of. A detour through the first mentions of the Iberian Peninsula (ranging through several centuries) arrived to Crete and the concepts of thalassocracy and of “the political influence of merchants and trade routes”, we mentioned the East India Company and the Venetian Republic but didn’t study them; from there we jumped to Egypt, where we spent 3 months and talked about anything any of us could think of. We were encouraged to look at any sources we could find; if someone saw something about “Egyptian water clocks” in a children’s book, they’d bring it to class and we’d dedicate several days to timekeeping. We learned how to look for further information, how to pick up key words from a little paragraph in a mag or a book.

And then Mr. C got sick and his replacement almost had a heart attack when we told him we’d just finished Egypt and started on the Assyrians, who weren’t even in our book. We were all very glad when Mr. C got well again.

Here’s one that might make history more interesting for future students:

There’s been some progress made recently with fusion power. The guy responsible is a physicist with a background in thermonuclear weapons, named Omar Hurricane. Doesn’t that just say “Volcano base” to you?

The best history teachers I had were good at bringing in relevance to events, not just having us memorize dates and places.

I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but I consider myself lucky to have had (a few) teachers who made history seem exciting and interesting and making it seem like you were solving a mystery as to the who/how/when/where and why of historical events.

I’ll thank Mr. M, my Grade 11 teacher, for making me interested in history. Prior to that, history was a dull recital of dates and events. After I studied under Mr. M in Grade 11, history became so much more. “Event X happened. Do you suppose it impacted on Event Y? And if so, how did it affect Event Z? Defend your answer.”

These were our classroom discussions. Mr. M took no prisoners; you had to be able to defend your answer. You could argue with him, as long as you had a good argument. If you could put forth a good argument, no matter how wrong you were, you would do well in Mr. M’s class.

But it got us all thinking about what might have been. All the “what ifs,” in other words. We talked them out, we analyzed them in the context of their own time, and in a modern context. History came alive for me in Mr. M’s class, and his approach set me up well for future studies in history.

Comparing Mr. M’s history class to others I’ve taken at both high school and university, I’ll answer the OP’s question with the following:

– The textbook isn’t the be-all and end-all. Yes, we used the textbook, but Mr. M’s “what ifs” prodded us to look beyond the textbook for answers.

– Discussion. The “read and make notes on Chapter 5, and I’ll check that you did your homework tomorrow” approach did not work in Mr. M’s class. He simply didn’t care if you made notes; hell, he never checked homework. What mattered to him was that you had read the material and could discuss it. Those who could, did well; those who could not, well… At any rate, a back-and-forth discussion between teacher and prepared student mattered, not lectures.

– A disbelief that history is a dry, dusty subject that consists of dates and events. “The Parthenon in Athens was dedicated to the goddess Athena, and completed in 438 BC” is a dry, dusty fact. But “Why did the Greeks construct the Parthenon? How significant was the goddess Athena to them? What other structures are on the Acropolis? What is their significance?” And perhaps most interestingly, “If you were an ancient Greek, what would the Acropolis mean to you?” In other words, he made us think and discuss beyond the dry, dusty facts.

Mr. M loved history. His enthusiasm for the subject and his approach made me love history too. Based on the approach that Mr. M taught me, I like to look at a historical event and ask, Cause? Effect? Significance? Anything else?

From Mr. M, I learned that history is a topic which needs to be discussed in order to be understood. True, I’ve written a few papers on history; some of which have been published. But it all comes back to Mr. M and his Socratic method approach. Mr. M never believed that we ought to be spoon-fed; he challenged us, he made us think; he made us talk and discuss and disagree and advocate and defend; and in doing so, he made history important to us. IMHO, that’s how you make history more interesting.

Less of it.

I am puzzled. Why would learning about how "“wily Yankees” liked to whittle sticks have made history so much more interesting? I suppose different random “quirky” historical facts catch different people’s imaginations, but for a history teacher it is impossible to know which ones will do so for which pupil.

I had one good history teacher in high school who sparked an interest in it for me. He taught historical events in the full-spectrum context of geography, climate, politics, etc. I guess you could call it relational history, or some such. For example, rather than just talk about how Germany invaded Poland in 1939, he would talk about how Poland was a sitting duck for almost anybody to walk in and take the keys. I still read history books 40 years later.

The older I get, the more interest I have in history. Funny, that.

I have always been fascinated by “old and new” photos, though, especially those where the viewpoint is identical but almost everything has changed beyond recognition. A simple side-by-side photo comparison can say more about the changing world than a whole chapter of school textbook.

This for me as well.

Although, I would want to specify a mix of modern novels written about the historical period and reading novels/literature/newspapers written at the time.

There’s no reason to separate literature from history in education. One class can test you on the factual components and the other class can test you on the language components.

In my 10th grade history class the first page of each chapter was a day in the life of a typical person of the day. What they did, what they wore, what they ate.
That was interesting.

I walked away from history with nothing more than a string of names, dates, and battles.

I’d settle for just good history books. Your standard middle or high school history books with a few dry paragraphs on each subject are just deadly. E.H. Gombrich’s “Little History of the World” is a good example of a survey book that is well written and interesting.

Ha, no offense to the OP, but I had the same reaction when I clicked the link. Was it the bisexual flirting that caught your attention? If so, there are probably other interesting insights into the sexual mores of time past that would also be interesting.

When I was in grade school, they tended to concentrate on “the big picture”: population migrations, social movements, economic trends. Important, but really boring.

When I got to college, they were allowed to teach us the juicy gossip: Caesar’s adultery, Cleopatra’s incest, Spartan pederasty, Brooks caning Sumner on the Senate floor. That was a lot more fun.

Well, I do like quirky, and I like finding things I’d never heard of before, so if you combine the two, you have my attention. But there were other reasons. One is that the blurb describes a form of entertainment. Entertainment, although important to people, does not get mentioned much in typical history classes. It made me think about the way that technology changes the forms that entertainment takes. Entertainment is also connected to the ideas and feelings of the times in a way that official documents aren’t. It’s a different angle.

Also, the blurb claimed, and it’s associated with a museum, so I assume that they’ve got their information right, that Uncle Sam, a venerated figure, evolved from a disreputable stock character. I’ve read several articles or bits on the history of Uncle Sam, and this has never been mentioned in any of them. In fact, the current wikipedia article for Uncle Sam has no mention of it. This feels like behind the scenes information. As if the other articles are giving the official version, and this is looking at the well of ideas and images, developed by unofficial folk, that the official people drew from.

Also, there’s always the idea, especially in high school, that historical folks were all official and purposeful and morally upright/uptight. The wily yankee undercuts that. The fact that the character had dispensation to be suggestive in public undercuts the idea that transgressive comedy is a new thing. It makes the period more accessable and makes the people then seem more like us.

Art. Both contemporary and modern, of all forms, including literature, fashion, music, and painting. I’d like to see both The Great Gatsby and Boardwalk Empire in a class about the 1920s, along with a real Model T, Charlie Chaplain shorts, and those big fur coats people wore at college. I’d also like to know a bit about what the war was like, on the front and back home, and some earlier 20th century events that helped shape the lives of the people who were living in the 20s.

It’s about putting things in context. What is it like to live now, in the present? The events, the fashion, the music, the technology. And try and transport the student back to another time, illustrating the events, technology and culture that would have influenced how they think and feel if they had been born then.

Two things I remember from high school that made history more interesting:

We played a game of the course of about two weeks. Each student was a founding US colony and we had to work through how to give each state, big and small, populous and not populous, ‘fair’ reperesentation. I learned a lot about our government in a very short time.

One history teacher told us a story of how Washington had his pay structured in a weaird way to maximise his profit. I don’t remember the details now. It was the story itself, the departure from the usual complete worship of our founding fathers that opened my eyes. They could be both good and bad!? History wasn’t just about whitewashing the past anymore.