When I taught history I’d do what many teachers do and parse the word, suggesting it can mean: “his story.” as if there may be other stories offering different perspectives on the same events. Feminists like to parse the word too, but emphasizing the “his” part as biased in favor of men, and that students might want to think of it as “herstory” as well.
Never was I taught history as a separate subject until fourth grade when Sister Charles Paul passed out the first history books at St. William’s School in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. By the end of September I’d read all of it and longed for more, but no more came along. I don’t remember getting any more history texts until I went to high school and had Western Civilization I and II. Then it was US History in junior year and that was it until college. Never did I sense a love of history in my teachers though. Many high schools gave US History classes to football coaches who had little or no interest in them.
After my risk of getting drafted declined in 1971 I dropped out of college, then went back in ’73 after deciding to become a teacher. For that I needed degrees and took a few more uninspiring history courses, so my interest in history had to be sated by my own research. After being horrified watching the Adolph Eichmann trial with my father in 1961, I learned all I could about the Holocaust. Then the Vietnam War affected everyone in my demographic as my best friend and others I grew up were sent there. Some died and all were profoundly changed, so I learned all I could about that as well. Thus did those two phases of history became my own specialities.
When students came to me with little or no historical perspective or interest, I devised methods to help them to fix themselves in time. Digital imagery became available in the ’90s, so I encouraged students to bring in pictures of their ancestors to be scanned. Then they digitally constructed horizontal timelines of the 20th century with pictures of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents across the top above the years corresponding to their lifespans. Across the bottom they put images of major world events occurring during those lifepans. Just as Vietnam had dominated my generation, World War II and the Great Depression affected the lives of their grandparents and/or great-grandparents. World War I affected their great-great-grandparents, and so forth. They could also import pictures of presidents who served during those lifespans.