There are so many areas to study in history that it’s nearly impossible to truly “hate” studying history. For most haters of history, I discuss whether the book was boring, or whether you’re just studying an area of history that’s interesting to someone else. Often times schools look at themes in history that talk only about Western civilization-Greeks, Romans, Europe, and America. More and more often, we’re seeing world history expand into other areas–Eastern civilization (China, Japan, Southeast Asia, India), and topical areas in history. Here is a quick snapshot of some of the types of history we study in schools:
1. Military history: This is about all the great battles, their causes and effects on society. Done well, this provides a snapshot into conflict, conflict resolution, and key turning points in history. Done poorly, it is a column in a book that saves you from having to count sheep before you go to bed. This type of history is often the “traditional” study of history as we set up the little toy soldiers, reenact battles, and discuss weaponry.
2. Comparative history: This type of historical study allows you to compare two types or periods of history–it allows you to examine evidence and draw parallels between two areas, time periods, people, or regions. This is often an interesting way of connecting things that you might not otherwise connect. This type of study is used at some of the world’s most prestigious universities, like Oxford, to make large and small connections between things that otherwise might have been missed.
3. Political history: This tells about politics and relations in an area. It’s often helpful in discovering the root cause of conflict and alliance in the world today. Many political historians study these regional conflicts–like the conflict in the Middle East, and attempt to provide solutions.
4. Religious history: This is a fascinating area of history, and can often overlap into other areas, like political or military, depending on what you are studying. Studying the Crusades, for example, forces you to discuss moments in history where conflict meets social injustice, but at the same time, where world travel causes events in history which rippled out through the globe. Many people often feel that they must be religious to study this area of history–not true. Although some of the best studies in this area have been monks and priests, like the Jesuit order, Some of the best scholars in this area are secular or even nonbelievers.
5. Social history: This is the history of the story of the people. How did people live and work? What advances in history affected the people directly? What is the history of social class and social interaction? Social history is coming much more into the limelight in modern studies of history. Studying the story of people is fascinating and should never be overlooked as one of the most important branches in history. Please take some time to look at this Learnist board on oral history, an aspect of social history, assembled by our own Kevin Cordeiro and journalist Maggie Messitt.
6. Historiography: Ever wonder why old textbooks talk about the “dead white guys?” History accounts have generally been written by people in power, people who had leisure time to write about such things, or by the winning side in any conflict or war. Ever wonder what the British would have written about the American Revolution? Have you studied that? Have you ever wondered why there are so few historical accounts by Africans under Colonial Rule? Have you thought deeply about the difficulty finding primary source accounts from Native Americans during the period of Westward Expansion? Then historiography is for you. This is the study of the study of history rather than history itself. Take a moment to examine this Learnist board about historiography and consider this alternate view of Lincoln, which stands in contrast to the Lincoln in most history books. Consider, judge, and evaluate! You get to decide.
It’s refreshing that history is now being considered from so many more directions and angles. Historians are considering all of these things and including them into excellent accounts. Still, it’s important to remember that ultimately, history is something YOU determine in your mind. After reading the primary and secondary sources, you become the authority and you use that material to render your own verdict. This is the critical point. Using the evidence, you get to decide–there is more than one right answer. You have the power to determine what that right answer is!
Do you still hate history? Yes, you in the front row–I’m talking to you:)