History is an absolutely fascinating subject, if taught well, feels Ankini Banerjee, a Class X student of The Levelfield School, Suri. She explains how movies and literature can really help us take a liking for history.
If you ask a group of adults which class they most disliked during their school years, most of them will name history. I once asked my parents what they remembered of their history classes and why they hated it so much. They said, “It was boring. We had to memorize dry facts and dates. We studied history only to pass the exams.”
After this, I started to notice that most people I have met outside my school also dislike history. This made me wonder why. As a student, I consider history to be one of my favorite subjects. Then how is it so universally hated? After some reflection, I understood the reason.
In most schools, history is just a blur of dates and names. It does not delve deep into the fascinating personalities and the complex interactions between people and nations. You might be interested in knowing what kind of a person Hitler was and what was going on in his mind when he declared war on Poland. But when you raise your hand and ask this to your teacher, he might say, “That’s not important. Such questions are not asked in the exams.”
You might ask your teacher why African countries are so poor. But she might say, “That’s not history. We are studying history right now so your question is irrelevant.” But clearly African history influenced its poverty! But we put our subjects in very narrow boundaries and kill the curiosities of students.
You might ask how I developed such liking for history. It is because in my school we learn history not through dreary textbooks but through literature and movies. Let me give you a few examples of novels that piqued my interest in history.
The Century Trilogy is a set of books by Ken Follett. At first glance, the books are just fiction. But there’s more to them. The three books collectively talk about the entire twentieth century history, including the Russian revolution, the Great Wars, the Cold War, the spread and the collapse of Communism.
While reading the books, I never once thought of them as a study material. They were full of thrill and adventures that kept me interested throughout. But after finishing the first book, I realized that I knew much more about the First World War than I did before.
Not just the dates, I knew what triggered the war and which countries joined it based on what motives. I didn’t have to struggle to remember which countries were part of the Allies and which were part of the Central Powers. The whole set of events were like a story in my mind. I understood that learning could be much more effective if done in a fun way.
I learnt a lot about history from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It is not a children’s story about some animals revolting against the farm owner and setting up their own system. It has a much deeper meaning. It is an allegorical book which depicts the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist rule.
I could go on. There are a hundred other examples of literature that can improve our learning of history. Yet, none of these are used in classrooms. When students like me say that they don’t like history, we need to understand that there is nothing wrong with history as a subject. The fault lies in the way it is taught.
I feel lucky to be part of a school where teachers take great care to make learning a pleasant experience for us. Studying here, I have learnt that history can be really enjoyable, if learnt through fun methods.