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History as a Blog

In the following correspondence, Howard Gardner discusses with Sue Kozel, a teacher at several higher education institutions, her reactions to The App Generation, and how it pertains to her students’ research papers and computer history games. 

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Dear Dr. Gardner,

I read your book The App Generation, and found it very insightful in helping me better understand and serve history and survey-class students. I have students create computer history game openings for lessons (without computers) to help engage them with the background and skill-sets they have that might be different from mine.

This following issue came up several times throughout the term. I teach at several colleges with survey- and/or 200-level history classes. My training is at NYU (MA), and I have shared my research at several national, and with this summer included, two international conferences.

In their research papers, some students wanted to incorporate the reactions of family members who had personally experienced an historical issue. Topics have included:  Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, 9/11, and gun use as a reaction to violence in the media. I acquiesced and asked students to give me a set of questions they would ask and take notes on when interviewing family (like an oral history project). What I often get back in the final papers continues to surprise me – History as a Blog. The oral history of the family disappeared, and instead, students wrote about their personal memories as evidence to interpret research or validate their opinions. In fact, some students think history is best when they experience it, like writing a blog about their opinions of current issues. I do teach online and have class blogs and class wikis, but I am concerned about this type of response – “Only if I see it, experience it, only then does the history has importance to me.” I must continue to address this process with further change.

Yes, the Renaissance artists sometimes drew or painted historical people in Renaissance clothing. Many historical periods see the past in the present tense. There is a presentist view in evaluating history and symbols in art, history, and other fields. 

But what happens with the Shoah, or slavery, or genocide in the past if the instant assessment of historical value is based on: “Hey, this affects me, so it’s important!” 

Your book is like my “partner.” I’ve been developing computer history game concepts for several years, revising them as per different class dynamics. Often, we don’t have computers due to budget constraints, so I push students and myself on how to think creatively, evaluate sources, and argue, with evidence, historical interpretation and historical facts. We make these “games” without computers… using our brains.

Just wanted to drop you a note that your book is very engaging and necessary (and helpful!).

Sue Kozel

(Forthcoming edited work, with Maurice Jackson late 2015) — Quakers and their Allies in the Abolitionist Cause, 1754-1808

suekozel@gmail.com

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Dear Sue,

Thank you for your reflection. I agree that history as a subject is having a very difficult time in the U.S. I think that you have identified one of the reasons. At Harvard a new course is being developed which approaches history through the person’s own genealogy—very much in line with your own observation. 

Two quotations from memory: 

Timothy Garton Ash—“The problem with the Balkans is too much of a sense of history; the problem with the United States, no sense of history at all.”

Maya Jasanoff (professor at Harvard, developing the aforementioned history course)—“We need to teach tomorrow’s leaders why yesterday matters.”

I wish you the best of luck with your teaching!

With best wishes,

Howard Gardner

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