Summary

“To history has been assigned the office of judging the past, of instructing the present for the benefit of future ages. To such high offices this work does not aspire: It wants only to show what actually happened.” – Leopold von Ranke [1]
History comes from the Latin historia which means story or a narrative of past events. When presented in this way, history can truly capture the imagination help people living in the present not only learn names, dates, and places of the past, but be able to imagine life in former times and identify with the dreams, fears, hopes, desires, pain, joy, suffering, and triumphs that people went through in those time periods. The great 19th century German historian and father of the modern historical method, Leopold von Ranke referred to this as history wie es eigentlich gewesen, or as it actually happened
Personally, I find the surest way to interest people living in the present who are easily distracted with all the pleasures of the modern world is to link the present with the past and show how the past shaped the present, particularly how events in the past shaped their lives and the country in which they live in the here and now.
             Two posts a week is my goal, with one post being light-hearted, at times only a historic meme, history in the news, or a shout out to a new historic book, film, or TV series. I hope to make the other post a research post. I will do my best to thoroughly research the information presented and cite each post accordingly with relevant, credible, sources. As this blog is not dedicated to any particular geography or time period, topics may be wide-ranging. 
About me
I decided to major in history because I didn’t want to go into a career in which I’d be miserable, even if it paid well. Since there was only one subject that I looked forward to during grade school, my college major was an easy choice. I once heard an economist say that the ultimate goal in life economically is to get paid to play – to get paid to do something that one would do as a hobby were he or she in some other line of work. For instance, most professional athletes love the game they play so much that if they were in some other career, they would gladly play it for fun in their free time or coach it at no charge. But, for them to get to do something they would do anyway just for the fun of it is an accomplishment most people never get to enjoy. For me that hobby is historical research. While I do have many other hobbies, I must admit that as a true history geek, one of my ideas of a great time is kicking back with a good history book or documentary and analyzing not only the content, but interpretation. 
            History is not my passion only because it’s interesting and exciting, but because of the need for it in today’s American society. According to a 2011 release of the National Association of American Progress, fourth graders, eighth graders, and twelfth graders performed worse in history than in any other subject. This is largely a result of national education standards mandated or encouraged by the federal government in an effort to keep American students up to par with other nations in math, science, and reading, thereby neglecting the humanities. This has led to the combining of history with the other humanities by throwing them into the social studies category.[2] A Newsweek magazine survey of one thousand American adults found that seventy-three percent could not correctly identify why the U.S. fought the Cold War, forty-four percent could not define the Bill of Rights, eighty percent did not know that Woodrow Wilson was president during World War I, and a staggering sixty-seven percent did not know that the United States’ economic system is capitalist. These results confirmed what I have believed all along about historic knowledge being tied to political knowledge. Conservatives and liberals surveyed generally knew their history, while the mushy moderates of the cynical center were in the complete dark.[3]
            This historic ignorance doesn’t hurt most people in their careers, but from a geo-political and national perspective, it can have deadly consequences. It is easy to mislead a public that isn’t aware of its past, much less the past of other nations with whom their country comes in contact. While the U.S. is trying to catch up with the Asians in science and math, its citizens are falling woefully behind Europe in social studies and general knowledge of international affairs. According to another Newsweek survey, sixty-eight percent of Danes, seventy-five percent of Brits, and seventy-six percent of Finns could for example, identify the Taliban, but only fifty-eight percent of Americans were able to do the same—even though it was the United States that took the initiative in dethroning that Afghan faction after the September 11 attacks.[4]
    However, with loads of free information available at the click of a mouse and younger generations more internet savvy than their elders, one would assume that this kind of historical ignorance would be quickly disappearing. That assumption is unfortunately wrong. A Stanford University research team found after ten years of interviewing young Americans, only twenty-eight percent knew that the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land, twenty-six percent knew that the first ten amendments are called the Bill of Rights, and under a quarter knew that George Washington was the first president.[5] According to a Marist poll, only thirty-one percent of Americans under the age of thirty was able to identify 1776 as the year in which the United States declared its independence from Great Britain.[6]
The only way that this unfortunate downward trend of historical literacy in the U.S. can be reversed is if historians and history teachers find new and innovative ways to interest people in history. If history is clumped together with other social studies and is forced to share its place at the academic table with civics, geography, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and economics then students will get at most a brief overview of the subject. Furthermore, any time a brief overview is given of any subject, a serious weeding out process must be undertaken which makes it easier for limited agendas of societal factions to be given overdue importance, creating not history classes, but indoctrination sessions. This whittling down of history also diminishes the demand for knowledgeable history teachers in the classrooms since much less is expected of them. For instance, currently, only about sixty percent of secondary history teachers actually majored in history in college.[7] It is little wonder then that they are so unsuccessful at inspiring interest in their students in the subject.
As a graduate student, I certainly claim no final expertise on the subjects covered in this blog and welcome any questions, critiques, or outrages at my take on these historic topics. The research topics presented in this blog are meant to be conversation starters and I certainly welcome well-founded corrections or suggestions for future topics. Above all, I hope you, the reader will find the content of interest and useful. 
“A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey[8]




[1] Stern, F. The varieties of history from Voltaire to the Present. (New York: Vintage, 1973), 57, quoted in Andreas Boldt, “Perception, Depiction and Description of European History: Leopold von Ranke and his Development and Understanding of Modern Historical Writing,” Historical Perspectives, 12, http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_64280_en.pdf.
[2] Jonathan Alter, “Historical Ignorance Warps American Politics,” Bloomberg, June 16, 2011, accessed February 12, 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-17/historical-ignorance-warps-american-politics-jonathan-alter.html.

[3] “Newsweek Polls Americans on Their Knowledge of Being Americans; 38 Percent Failed,”PR NewsWire, March 21, 2011, accessed February 12, 2014, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-release/nwsweek-polls-americans-on-their-knowledge-of-being-american-38-percent-failed-118366914.html.

[4] Andrew Romano,“How Ignorant Are Americans?” Newsweek, March 20, 2011, accessed February 12, 2014, http://www.newsweek.com/how-ignorant-are-americans-66053.
[5] Walter Williams, “Young Americans ignorance baffling,” Columbia Daily Tribune, July 13, 2011, accessed February 13, 2014, http://www.columbiatribune.com/opinion/columnists/young-americans-ignorance-baffling/article_b8fa7cfa-fd86-57bc-86f5-660e268f4c26.html.
[6]Marist poll reveals ignorance of July 4th history,”History News Network, July 1, 2011, accessed February 12, 2014, http://hnn.us/article/140401.
[7] Jonathan Alter,“Historical Ignorance Warps American Politics,” Bloomberg, June 16, 2011, accessed February 12, 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-17/historical-ignorance-warps-american-politics-jonathan-alter.html.
[8] Marcus Garvey Quotes, Goodreads, accessed February 13, 2014, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/280448-a-people-without-the-knowledge-of-their-past-history-origin.

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