Does the study of history bring to mind a list of dates to memorize, or do you picture the people and events of the past? Can you see the connections between events and the overarching story of the world? Although there are undoubtedly dates and specific details that should be memorized, I believe that history is more compelling and memorable when viewed as a story, and understood chronologically.
Although History is my favorite subject to teach, it was not my favorite subject when I was in school. Well, not every year, certainly. I really enjoyed learning about the ancient cultures of the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, but had no idea whether they all existed at the same time or not. I liked learning about life during the Middle Ages, but I didn’t really understand what they were in the middle of. It wasn’t until I started doing my own reading, in late high school and college, that I grasped the chronological order of many historical events, and it changed my whole perspective! It actually made so much more sense.
Why teach history chronologically?
It develops a storyline, and everyone loves a good story. We want to know what happens next! Who wins the conflict? Did the bad guy get what was coming to him? Did the good guy eventually win? Did they live happily ever after? When a story develops, it has a better chance of holding our interest and sticking in our memory.
It gives context to the events. We begin to understand more about what the world was like, what else was going on at about the same time in other parts of the world, and that events don’t occur in a vacuum. Perhaps most importantly, we can see cause and effect, and that many conflicts and world issues have a lot of backstory.
It introduces us to interesting characters. True, we can learn about these characters even if we’re jumping about on the historical timeline, but their stories are easier to tell as part of the larger sweeping story of history. Just as the events didn’t take place in a vacuum, the vivid personalities of world leaders and memorable historical figures developed as part of their place and time.
It ties in with literature. It’s often helpful to use literature that goes along with your history study. Novels written during the time period take on new meaning. Novels set in that time period can give insight. Stories that explore the lives of individuals – whether historical or fictional – and how they are affected by historical events help us understand in a much more personal way.
It’s easier to remember. Thanks to the intriguing plot, the context and ripple effects, the fascinating characters, and the great stories, we remember a lot more about what happened and why. And I’ve found that knowing that is generally more useful than recalling the specific date. But honestly, the important dates become easier to remember too, once they have a great story attached.
If history were told in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. ~Rudyard Kipling