Historical Perspectives

GEN-ED 120 HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES, Fall 2014

Monday-Wednesday Hyland Hall
MW 09:30 AM – 10:45 AM HH2300
MW 11:00 AM – 12:15 PM HH2300

Instructor: Libby R. Tronnes

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“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Live every week like it’s Shark Week.” Tracy (Jordan) Morgan

“The thing being made in a university is humanity” – Wendell Berry

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” — Robin Williams

 What is the story of the 20th Century?

One historian has famously defined history as “an argument without end.”  Human history is a collection of stories.  This begs many questions:  Is history just a matter of opinion, where all stories are equally valid, or equally bogus?  Or are some stories more truthful and necessary than others?  How does one decide between different version of the past, or whose story counts?  These are difficult questions.  People disagree about the answers.

“The past is never dead,” wrote William Faulkner.  “It is not even past.”  By this he meant that human societies move forward in time but they never leaving anything completely behind.  You’ll find a similar theme running through John Green’s “Crash Course” videos on world history, a collection of wonderfully funny and informed videos that you’ll become more familiar with (and fans of!) over the course of this semester.  Mr. Green reminds us that people make history and are made by it.  Knowing something about the present requires knowing a lot about the past. Otherwise, today’s perils may overwhelm us and its opportunities may slip by us.

Gaining a historical perspective requires us to ask not only what the story of the twentieth century is, but also: How do people construct the stories they tell about the past? How do we evaluate the stories they tell?  What thinking habits can I develop to judge the credibility of the histories I encounter? Why does this even matter?

Knowing things also makes you a better, more interesting person.