Why Study History?

darran-shen-588299-unsplash

Photo by Darran Shen on Unsplash

Studying history often gets a bad rap. It is seen just as a long dull list of dates and dead people. However, I find history really interesting. It can also be sobering, tragic and sometimes, downright horrific. But I believe that if you want to know where we are going in the future, you need to know where we have been

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey

When we delve into the past, we can trace the movement of people, ideas and changes in cultures and societies. History provides a fascinating revelation of how our forebears thought, lived and died. It highlights achievements in medicine and science, as well as the devastating consequences of war, famine and disease.

Ancient history often seems quite remote to us here in the 21st century, but it is surprising how we can join the dots from then to here and now, one thought leading to another, one event leading to another, one era evolving into another. History is not just the story of some ancient people, in a far away land, in a time forgotten. History is the story of us.

“History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” – David McCullough

We can go back hundreds or even thousands of years, to medieval Europe or to ancient Greece, or we can just go back to a time that is still in living memory. Even though we are now living in the 21st century, the events of the 20th century are still clear as bell for many of us. Some of us might still remember where we were when JFK was shot, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon or when the twin towers came down. However, it still feels somewhat startling to discover that the time of your childhood is now considered history, even if it only feels like yesterday.

Photos by Cristina Gottardi, Tom Parkes & Holger Link on Unsplash

When we wander back through history, we can find stories of ordinary people, just like us, living, working, breeding and dying, and events that changed the world, like fire, sea navigation, the printing press. For many of us, the 20th century has been a period of rapid change, of great achievements and of unspeakable horror. If you were to make a list of the top ten events of the 20th century that changed the world, what would you choose?

While everybody’s list might look a little different, I think there would be some events that would make it onto every list. Here’s a list that I came across recently.

Top 10 Most Important Events of the 20th Century

  1. World War I and World War II
  2. Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945)
  3. Holocaust (1933-1945)
  4. Rise of Hitler (1919-1933)
  5. Great Depression (1929-1939)
  6. Discovery of Penicillin (1928)
  7. Fall of Berlin Wall (1989)
  8. Landing on the Moon (1969)
  9. Bombing of Pearl Harbor (1941)
  10. Assassination of JFK (1963)

How does it compare with your list? For me, the two World Wars and the Holocaust always rank highly in my mind. And it doesn’t seem to matter how much we think we already know about these events, there is always more for us to learn. We can read about the facts of WWI and the Holocaust, but we can only imagine how it must have actually felt for those who went through it and for those who survived. With Europe in ruins and the horror of the Holocaust revealed, the question both then and now is – how did we come to this?

And this is where the study of history comes in. We can look back years, even decades before, and trace the ideas, the events, the people. But – we need to be careful.

“historians always know how the story ended; vision in hindsight is always perfect.” (Findley & Rothney, 2011, p77)

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In the full knowledge of what we know now, we can look back and see what could or should have happened, what world leaders should have or should not have done. It’s so easy to point the finger and cast judgement. Would we have chosen any differently?

Perhaps we might wish we could turn back time and change the course of history, but then we would not be where we are today. It could be better or it could be worse – we will never know. Whether tragic or horrific, amazing or marvellous, the events of the past have made us who we are today. The things we do today will be the history of the future. Let’s do all we can to make it a good one.

 

Findley, CV & Rothney, JAM 2011, Twentieth-Century World, 7th edn, Wadsworth, Belmont CA.

Advertisements

Studying in the 21st Century

 

 

books-2596809_640

The holidays are over and it’s time to get my head back into the books. The art of being a student has changed quite remarkably since I began my first university course way back in the 80’s. 

In those days …

  • We lined up for hours to enrol in subjects only to discover, when we finally got to the desk, that all the best tutorial times were already taken
  • We waited in the sun, wind and rain for the bus to arrive to take us into the city and back home again
  • We huddled in freezing lecture theatres, writing madly as the lecturer droned on and on and on
  • We spent hours in the library thumbing through the card catalogue, paging through the journal indexes, lugging journal volumes the size of a brick to the photocopier which needed to be fed with numerous coins in order to produce a blurry take-home copy
  • We stood nervously in front of the tutorial class, stammering through those dreaded oral presentations, only to be flummoxed by a tricky question 
  • We wrote our assignments by hand, on real paper, and pushed them under the lecturer’s door, just in the nick of time
  • We groped our way through the heavy cloud of smoke that filled the cafeteria just to grab a cup of the student’s best friend – coffee!

hands-1283917_640

Today …

  • I complete my enrolment with just a few clicks 
  • I study from the comfort of my own home
  • I listen to recorded lectures at my desk,  pausing the lecturer midstream to jot down a brief note on the powerpoint slides I have already downloaded, printed out and skimmed beforehand
  • I peruse the online library catalogue, download journal articles and read online books without having to leave home, though I still do borrow some real books from the library – not everything is online
  • I work through the readings and coursework independently and complete the tutorial activities in the online student forums
  • I type up my assignments in Word and submit them electronically, just in the nick of time – some things never change!
  • I no longer need to hold my breath if I happen to visit the cafeteria – coffee is still a student’s best friend 

dog-2983021_1280

The Advantages of Studying Online

You might think that studying from home can get a bit lonely. Some people prefer to learn in a more social environment so studying online is probably not for them. However, for me, it means I can organise my study schedule around family commitments and listen to lectures when it’s convenient for me. I still get to know other students – just in a different way. We may never meet face to face, but we get to know each other in the online forums. After a while, you start to see familiar names popping up again and again in classes. At USQ, most of the students are studying online. It’s not uncommon at all for most of the students in my classes to also be studying online from anywhere in Australia and across the world. They bring a variety of perspectives and life experiences to the online classroom and enrich the learning of us all.

literature-3068940_640

Life Long Learning

apple-256261_640

I am often asked why I am studying or what do I hope to do with my Arts Degree when I am finished. Sometimes I find it difficult to give a satisfactory answer because the answer isn’t always straightforward. I study because I love learning. I study to learn more about subjects that are of special interest to me, such as English Literature, History and Creative Writing. I study because I wanted a career change. I study because I want to challenge myself and try something new. I study because I believe in life long learning.

We are all life long learners. Our learning doesn’t stop the day we leave school or graduate with a degree. Every day we learn from each other – at home, at work, at school, in the community. It’s often said that we learn something new every day. It doesn’t have to be anything truly earth-shattering. It can be something very simple. And even when we make a mistake or have a disaster, we learn what not to do.

Over the past few years I have learned quite a few new things. As an online student, I have learned some new things about technology. Even though I now live in Toowoomba, and the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) is based here in Toowoomba, I still find online study to be a more flexible option for me. And I am not the only one. Many of the students at USQ are distance students from across Australia and even the world. Studying online is a popular choice for people trying to balance work, family and study.

It hasn’t always been easy to balance study with family responsibilities. I try to organise my study timetable while Dan is at Yellow Bridge and this works most of the time. It’s not that Dan is difficult to manage, it’s just that he really loves computer screens and it’s very difficult to concentrate when you have someone peering over your shoulder. There are times though, when it has been a bit of a mad scramble to get an assignment in on time and that’s when I vow to be better organised in the next semester.

Well, the first semester for 2018 is just around the corner and for the first time, we will have two uni students in the family continuing their journey of life long learning. While I will be parked in front of my computer here in Toowoomba, Bec will begin studying in Brisbane. Even though I am just over half way through my degree, we joke that she will probably graduate before me. It’s okay. It’s the journey that matters, not the speed. It will be strange not having her around so much, but it is very exciting to see the next generation of students full of enthusiasm about the learning opportunities available to them. I wonder if their enthusiasm will have dimmed when the first round of assignments are due.

A new semester is a bit like New Year. We promise to be better organised, to keep up with the readings, to start our assignments well in advance and to not be reduced to pulling all-nighters to get them in on time. Every semester we promise it will be different – and then life happens. Family crises strike. We get sick, and tired. Appointments take up space in an already crowded schedule.  Perhaps this year it will be different.

So what will I be learning this semester? I’m about to get my head into Ethics and Human Rights, as well as Speculative and Science Fiction. I think Ethics will be quite challenging and require a fair bit of mental acrobatics, but at the same time I think it will be interesting to think about the difference between ethics and morality, how we determine right and wrong and how we know what we think we know. And as an avid reader, I am definitely looking forward to  Speculative and Science Fiction, although I hardly need an excuse to get into some sf classics like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dune by Frank Herbert.

I have really enjoyed my learning experience at USQ but you don’t need to go to Uni to be a life long learner. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new. Read a book. Watch a foreign movie. Make a new friend. Join a club. Accept a challenge. Embrace change. Be a life long learner.

literature-3068940_640