Friday, November 6, 2015

Why should we care about past empires?

While there is value in learning of dynasties and empires in the 16th century, we go about it in the wrong way. Students, by nature, are reluctant to grasp concepts which are largely irrelevant to them, and the way history courses are being taught now, this seems to be the case. Lectures and readings regarding the spread of Islam, the conquest of Malacca, and the Columbian Exchange often go in one ear and out the other, primarily because there is no connection to modern times. Secondly, students get bogged down in dates, names, and details, and consequently lose sight of the larger themes and takeaways of the material. In other words, knowing that the Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511 does nobody any good; however, learning that the Safavid Empire butted heads with the Ottomans, creating the Sunni/Shia divide which spurs the conflicts the students hear about on the evening news. These connections with modern times, for the most part lacking in our history courses, reveal information that is relevant to the students. Not only should the curriculum include these connections, it should be based upon them.

In summation, informing students about the way the world was centuries ago is only important if the students can see a clear cause and effect relationship, explaining to and informing students of the way the world is now.