Selecting History

History education is always selective. Who’s stories do we choose to tell and why? My son will be a Freshman in Highschool next year, and he is going to study World History spanning from the first humans to the industrial revolution. Obviously, far more happened in that time that a student can learn in a single year. Here is what I’m planning to teach him.

In addition to this history class, my son will also be taking a geography and human cultures class. For language arts he’ll be studying world literature, and for science he will be studying earth science and geologic history (ending with the evolution of man, which is also where his history course will begin).

My son loves to read and is a good writer. As such, this history course will be a lot of reading along with various write assignments associated with his assigned reading. My goal for him in this course isn’t to learn all the details of world history but instead to understand how human experiences have changed over time and the effect that culture has on history, especially when different cultures collide.

Here is a list of all the books he’ll be reading for history next year, along with a short description of why I decided to select these specific titles.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari – This book begins with the early hominins and the emergence of the Homo sapiens species. It then looks at how the agricultural revolution further changed the human experience. The second half of the book focus on modern history/culture in very broad strokes, looking at human systems not specific historic events. My son will begin the school year by reading this book.

A Little History of the World by EH Gombrich – This is the closest thing to a textbook my son will be using this year. It divides all of human history into 40 short chapters and will serve as the spine of what he studies this year. The rest of the books listed below will be interspersed throughout the year fitting in between the appropriate chapters in this book.

Gilgamesh by Stephen Mitchell – Fiction in history class? Yes. This course is more of a study of human culture over time than a list of dates and wars. Gilgamesh is the worlds first novel and I can’t think of a better way to learn about Mesopotamia than by reading it’s about it’s legendary hero.

Siddhartha by Herman Ness – A big part of the geography and world cultures class my son will be taking simultaneously will be a study of world religions. Here in history, he’ll learn about the founder of one of the worlds most notable religions – Buddhism. This entertaining novel, is also a biography of the Buddha.

The Art of War: A Graphic Novel by Sun Tzu and Pete Katz – Sometimes, war is a form of religion. To add a bit of variety, I’m having my son read the graphic novel version of this classic Chinese text instead of the original.

The Book of Mark from Christian Bible – If I included a biography of Buddha, I’ve got to also include a biography of Jesus. Including the Bible in a history class does not mean I think the bible is 100% historically accurate, but nobody can deny this book has had a tremendous impact on human culture and history.

Muhammad A Prophet for Our Time by Karen Armstrong – I decided to go with a biography of Muhammad instead of having my son read the Quran. This decision was made primarily because I think learning about who Muhammad was a person and how his life impacted history will feel more relevant to my son than reading a religious text from a religion his is not familiar with.

1066 The Year of Conquest by David Howarth – Dates, I know. The Norman conquest of Britain is one of the few specific dates in history I’m opting to focus on. Mainly because we speak English. This event in world history may not impact every human culture, but it effects our culture.

Samurai Rising by Pamala Turner – I wanted to include more Asian history, and figured this would be a fun addition. Really, that’s the only reason why I selected this particular part of history over all the other equally significant time periods.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford – Genghis Khan and the Mongols were the Medieval version of the Nazis. Just as it’s important to study WW2, this is one specific time in history worth studying. Especially because unlike the Nazis, the Mongols succeeded.

Mansa Musa by James Oliver – We need some African history. And this is the golden age of Africa. Literally, there is a lot of gold in Africa.

The Renaissance Inventors by Alicia Klepeis – A relatively short history book with STEM projects included seems like a great way to break things up a bit.

Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen – This is a biography of Magellan. He wasn’t a religious leader or a world conqueror, but Magellan definitely had a huge impact on world cultures and their interactions with one another. Also, in an academic year focused so heavily on geography, I had to include this title somewhere.

The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction by William Doyle – Like the Norman Conquest, I feel like the French Revolution is a part of world history that is worth taking a closer look at. Even if it’s only a “very short” closer look.

Who was Napoleon by Jim Gigliotti – I know “Who was” books are targeted towards much younger readers, but I wanted to spend some time focusing on Napoleon and the who was books do present relevant/useful information in a very straightforward and succinct way.

The Electric War by Mike Winchell – We are ending the year at the end of the 19th century. And what better place to stop than New York City and an epic fight for control of emerging technology. The warriors of this battle are of course Tomas Edison, Nicola Tesla, and George Westinghouse.

When teaching history, or even thinking about it yourself, what parts of our past human experience do you select to shape your own vision of the world?

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