Contributed by Alaina Lynn, Upper School History Teacher
“Are you a historian?” one student asked incredulously when I told her that I would be attending the Organization of American Historians (OAH) Annual Meeting conference in St. Louis, MO, last April.
“I am an historian,” I responded, “in fact so are all of you.”
This is one of the major benefits of OAH; high school teachers are able to hear directly from historians who produce the scholarship that we convey in our classrooms. Mingling with my fellow high school teachers, as well as university-level and public historians, reinforces the fact that we are all part of the history ecosystem. This was especially helpful given that the History Department at D-E has been working to expose our students to the kind of scholarship that is more commonly studied at the college level. Our U.S. Honors Seminar explores the concept of historiography, or the study of the methodology of history. By reading scholarly essays written by historians, students see that history is a field of constant inquiry and debate, not a catalog of indisputable facts.
The conference also reminded me that the study of history is a living subject, providing context for every new event as yet more history is made. Most of my students will not spend their futures pouring over archival documents in dark basements, but each and every one of them will use their historical thinking skills on a daily basis as they negotiate their roles as community members and citizens. D-E has supported my development of a Current Events course that I see as a practicum in how to gain a wide variety of perspectives about news events and to make sense of these disparate views – much like historians do with the past. I was therefore excited about the opportunity to hear firsthand from some of the drivers of a news event that my students were intrigued by last fall – the protests in Ferguson, MO. The OAH had coincidentally been scheduled for St. Louis before the city became a center of protest this past August. A panel brought historians of the Civil Rights Movement together with local protest leaders to help put events in Ferguson in historical context. Upon returning to school, I was able to talk with my students about how a combination of personal experience narratives, news coverage, and historical analysis are required to understand any issue.
I am so grateful to work at Dwight-Englewood, which not only gives me professional development opportunities, but also supports the development of courses that acquaint our students to state-of-the-art historical scholarship.