Teaching history? Start with the story

August 13th, 2013

In her latest post, history teacher and blogger HistoryFriend discusses why history teachers should bring fiction into their classrooms. While primary sources are critical for a strong history education, so too is engagement with imaginative literature.

Historical fiction gives students an opportunity to connect with the text in a way that primary sources rarely do, she writes:

Start with stories. Novels, short stories, biographies, autobiographies. Of these I prefer novels and short stories. Historical events, concepts and themes matter when they connect to people. We value primary sources in history class, as we should, but we should not lose sight of the value of fiction. Primary sources matter in that they connect us to the past. Stories matter because they connect us to humanity. I have always thought this, but I have not worked hard enough to incorporate fiction into my history classes. This summer, a few different experiences have convinced me that I need to do more to lead with stories.

Reviewing her summer reading, HistoryFriend connects the powerful stories from Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah to a nonfiction textbook on international migration. The experiences of the novels’ protagonists illuminate the concepts discussed in the nonfiction text and provide a creative way to inspire student engagement. HistoryFriend also suggests Edward Everett Hale’s “The Man without a Country” as a starting point for a discussion of the Edward Snowden case.

For more resources on using imaginative literature in the classroom, review our study guides in “The Meaning of America” series.  

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