Change is the norm for a historian and history teacher.Being a historian and a history teacher at that, it is not uncommon for me to walk away with many new understandings over the course of a day. History gives us something to test everything against….a rock for the waves of modern ideas to crash on. So much gets forgotten, obfuscated, dumbed down, changed, or outright omitted from our past that the potential for new understandings amount to almost limitless possibilities. Change is the norm for a historian and history teacher.
My Top Three Changed Understandings as a Historian
#1 – The Mongolian Empire – When I first studied the Mongols in grade school, Mongolians portrayed as heartless, savage, barbarians, who ravaged landscapes and cities near and far had a savage image. In college, I started to learn that along with a brutality in war unmatched for hundreds of years, they also had religious freedom, massive trade networks, technological achievements, and scholarship. For this reason, Mongolia is on my bucket list to travel to and one of my favorite subjects to teach about.
#2 – How widespread slavery was in the ancient world – When Americans think of slavery, we tend to think of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which was a horrible genocide of innocent Africans coupled with lifetimes of servitude. While this form of slavery was particularly brutal by standards of any age, slavery had existed since the dawn of empires.
“As we follow evidence through history, we see that slavery was a huge advantage for any new empire to become a success and thrive. Evidence has shown us that this was a way life for nearly every country in existence. Slaves were needed for labor whether it be for farmers or building walls to the empire. Slaves were therefore very important to their success.”PSu.EDU
Teaching About Slavery in Ancient Greece and Rome
This quote references ancient Mesopotamia, but was true for all large agriculture based civilizations. Ancient Greece held between 15-40% of its population in bondage. Ancient Rome was similar to this. Slaves were typically criminals, debtors or war captives. Slaves had little to no rights or protection under the law.
#3 – How Close Hitler was to Winning WWII – I have taught about World War II many times in World History and U.S. History and it is scary how close Hitler was to winning the war. The Nazi’s had a huge advantage by the time they had seized France. Had they chosen to invade Britain instead of Russia, they would of likely prevailed, possibly developed the atomic bomb before the U.S. Through the courage of the RAF and FDR’s stubbornness about supplying the British with war materials, the Allies gradually were able to pull out a hard fought victory. A resounding victory did not ensue. If you would like to read an interesting theory on how the Axis powers could of achieved victory, click this link.
“Overthrowing Hitler or assassinating him was probably the single most important thing Germany could have done to win World War II, assuming it had ended up fighting it at all without him.”DAvid L. pyne
Conclusion: Change is the Norm for a Historian and History Teacher
New historical narratives, whether for one personally, or for us collectively can lead to new understandings. I am fortunate to get to grapple with these topics often. As a result, my views and beliefs, constantly being challenged as viable or not, which I believe makes them stronger, gives me a deep appreciation for history in general. Thus, change is the norm for a historian and history teacher.
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