High school history

2007-06-07

in Daily updates, Oxford

In the course of revising for the history exam, I have found myself looking over notes from my last year of high school. In many ways, they are ideal. I have a six page document that highlights the key features of alliances in the inter-war period in bullet form. We see dates, participants, major purposes, and outcomes, all without the need to wade through hundreds of pages of academic text. Something similar is true of the timeline of Cold War leaders that we all had to make.

I actually wish I had my paper notes from the class, in addition to my typed assignments. I remember having to memorize dozens of little quotations and hundreds of key terms. In terms of the amount of teaching time devoted to each subject, the class was significantly more comprehensive than our history seminars here. Of course, the level of discussion here was enormously higher, and the expectations in terms of argumentation and analysis are equivalently greater. All the same, having a few solid pellets of birdshot in one’s general blast of knowledge makes it seem and feel rather more substantial. It is also good to be acutely reminded of how hopelessly ignorant one was with respect to certain things, seven years in the past. Without such comparison, it is too easy to slip into the belief that you have always had your present understandings and views.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan June 7, 2007 at 10:04 am

Some interesting Wikipedia articles, relevant to my exam:

Doolittle Raid (1942)
The Battle of Midway (1942)

Seth June 7, 2007 at 10:24 am

I know exactly what you mean. I feel like sometimes at the higher levels we can’t see the trees for the forest, to invert the idiom. We get hung up on trends, the development ideas, or what the Annales school of historians would call the “structures” of history. This is all well and good, but it’s also important that individual events and personalities both comprise and reflect all these higher-level themes.

When I tell people that I study history, especially Americans, the response is usually something like “Oh I couldn’t stand history, all those names and dates.” On the one hand, I feel like this is a gross misconception of what history is, or should be. But on the other hand, those names, dates, and events provide the foundation and framework on which we build the lofty towers of theory and analysis.

I wish I had more of my high school and college notes. I imagine they’d be similarly useful.

Anon @ Wadh June 7, 2007 at 6:40 pm

I shudder at the thought of what I wrote/believed at that stage in my life.

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