For the past several weeks I have been listening to a podcast that has become something of a blockbuster in the listening world – Empire, hosted by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand. Both are writers of history, and while Dalrymple may be familiar to those who enjoy reading popular histories of the Raj, Anand is a journalist with a couple of narrative histories to her credit. The podcast, which has devoted multiple episodes to first the British Empire (focusing on India) and then the Ottomans, is now exploring the global history of slavery, starting with ancient Egypt and Rome and going on to the darkest chapter of all, the Transatlantic slave trade to the Americas. The conversations are rich and revealing, with plenty of interesting trivia thrown into the more scholarly analyses and interpretations by well-known academics who do an excellent job of making their research accessible.
The popularity of the podcast attests to the fact that there is a widespread public appetite for history; when done right, people can’t seem to get enough of it.
And as the constant revisions of our textbooks suggests, history is very much a matter of our times. The questions of history are never quite settled, and the concerns are as much about how we do history as what we produce through its study.
Yet when it comes to the teaching of history at the school level, somehow, there is a dismissal of its importance (not by history teachers, but broadly, everyone else), and it’s treated as a “content” subject, one that is all about memorization and recall. Of course, readers of Teacher Plus would know that we take history very seriously, and through the years have looked at how it can be engaged with not only in the social studies classroom but also in developing a sense of how other disciplines have developed – a sense of historicity.
With this special issue, we turn over the entire magazine – for the second time – to the many exciting and enriching ways in which history can be pulled into the present. Several inspired teachers write about the hows and whys of their own teaching practice, and show, by example, the transformation of a textbook discipline into a critical journey of discovery.
As always, we’d love to hear how you took these ideas into your own classrooms. Maybe it could be the subject of a history podcast?