My sister-in-law's "books read in 2013" post has me itching to work on my own, but re-entry chores after our vacation are taking priority (with difficulty).  In the meantime, enjoy this post from the Occasional CEO.

In high school I studied the Civil War.  A few weeks later, we tackled World War I.  Those two wars seemed to me ages apart, in entirely different eons.  In one, ancient soldiers rode horses and wore funny hats.  In the other, ancient soldiers drove tanks and wore funny helmets.  The distance in time between the two events was, to me, like that between the Punic and Vietnam Wars.

As I arise on this snowy morning in the new 2014, I am reminded that the death of the Archduke is only six months away and the guns of August eight.  I realize too that I was in third grade when the Civil War ended.  Said another way, my living memory has now spanned the period between the Civil War and WWI, and it turns out they were not fought in different eons at all but in a very short, very connected period.  Brad Pitt was born the same year as Gettysburg.  We saw Google launch when the USS Maine sunk in Havana and we declared war on Spain.  Americans lost President Garfield to an assassin when Raiders of the Lost Ark premiered, and President McKinley when Apple introduced its first iPod.

Porter is always placing historical events in this kind of chronological context, which may explain why he has such a good sense of history.

There is a sense I now have of historical "connectedness" that I did not when I was young, or even when I was studying history in college.  It is something, I suppose, that truly gifted historians can create in their writing. Sometimes it comes upon us abruptly ... as it did for me last year when I watched the video of a man who witnessed Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theater appearing on TV's I've Got a Secret.  More often than not, though, this sense of connectedness probably just comes with age.

That it comes with age makes sense—how can a ten-year-old really grasp a time span of more than a few years?  Yet it seems worth the effort, given that apparently the graduates of 13 years or more of (mostly) compulsory education are even more ignorant of history than they are of geography.  I'm not mocking the younger generations:  almost all of my own historical and geographical knowledge was gained after I graduated from college.

(On the geography side, it didn't help that what I did learn in school went rapidly out of date.  Once I could identify all the countries on a map of Africa.  I can today—but few of them are the same countries.  Learning must never cease, and knowledge always be refreshed.)

How to help young learners develop a sense of history?  Timelines, certainly.  I don't mean just memorizing dates, but a clear visual representation of the relationships between events.  Perhaps something like Hillyer's Staircase of Time, or the huge timeline my sister-in-law created that took up most of their front hall.  Not hidden away in a book, but a part of the home or school landscape that confronts us daily.  Something frequently referenced, though, so it doesn't fade into the background.

It might be possible, also, to develop Porter's self-taught habit of translating bare historical dates into personal events, e.g. "When I was your age, we were fighting in Vietnam," or "Grandpa was born exactly 18 years after the Wright Brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk."

What other ideas can you think of?  If you are one of those blessed with a sense of history, do you know how you developed it?


Aargh.  I thought I could get a quick post by just putting up a link to someone else's.  Apparently I'm incapable of not adding my own two cents.  Especially since my refusal to set up a Google + profile keeps me from being able to comment on the Occasional CEO itself.

Back to post-vacation chores.  (I did say it was "with difficulty.")

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 3, 2014 at 10:00 am | Edit
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Thanks! I might add that when it comes to learning business history, we only go about as far back as the Titanic...Happy New Year!

Posted by Eric on Friday, January 03, 2014 at 7:21 pm

I think the thing that helped me understand history and time (which aren't always the same thing) was having opportunities to take my time with history. Outside of a classroom, my family took time to meander through historic cites or museums whenever possible. Participation in the Williamsburg minuet class was not optional--for any family members present. Stories about family history were a normal part of bedtime, so that we all knew the stories of Splash the Duck or Pawpaw's yellow roses. The twin ideas that "then is not like now" and "then affects now" were constantly taught, and I honestly think that helped cement people and dates and so many stories into my understanding of "history." The faster we go through history, the less it matters to us. I think. :)

Posted by Brenda on Monday, January 13, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Thanks for the insights, Brenda.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, January 13, 2014 at 7:57 pm