Teaching 1990 to Yesterday
Our last discussion had my students become the historians and the subjects. They were placed in groups and determined three things (people, events, concepts, issues) that would be in history books about their lives thus far (1990-yesterday) 50 years from now. The answers included: Barack Obama, same-sex civil union, 9/11, the wars on terror, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin. They also discussed medical advances (as in human genetics) and the environment (as in global warming, oil, and various new forms of power).
Most importantly, they discusssed technology. It made me think of Kip singing that he "still loves technology" at the end of Napoleon Dynamite. From cell phones to Facebook, blogs to twitter, military advances to space exploration as a form of entertainment. Perhaps graduate students will use theories from Lawrence Goodwyn on group cohesion in historical works about how Facebook defeated myspace.
For each person, event, or issue listed, I tried to connect it to the histoy we had worked through during the semester. For cell phones, for instance, we discussed how technology transformed entertainment from groups listening the radio, to couples necking in cars, to the expansion of televisions, to the rise of 24 hour news stations, and finally to the ability of everyday people to create mass entertainment. The biggest change, it seems to me, in the twenty-first century is how everyday people are now the creators of content. Perhaps Tosh.0 and its use of Youtube hilarity will be featured in history textbooks fifty years from now as indicative of the change (by the way, I use Tosh.0 quite frequently in my religious history class ... as in the time he had one of his "web redemptions" feature a man shooting images of Jesus - both white and black).
One of my favorite elements of both Hist and Major Problems is that they effort to hit the past as close as yesterday. Hist struggles with globalization and its discontents ... one of the primary features of the age (beautifully exemplified in Benjamin Barber's Jihad versus McWorld). The global emphasis has hit history books - not only in their interest in globalization, but also in the emergence of "big history." In contrast to big history, micro studies continue as books discuss this or that election and the "shaping of America" or how it "saved America." History texts, I think, in the future will have to balance the extreme local with the extreme local. In Major Problems, one of my favorite examples of this is Henry Louis Gates reflecting on Barack Obama's election. There, we see how intimate personal acts (an interracial marriage ... albeit a failed one), national changes (the civil rights revolution), international movements (the movements of Obama's father and family), and global impact (Obama winning the Nobel Peace prize, leading the U.S. in its wars, pulling the troops out of Iraq, etc.). I think the 2008 election (including the fact that the conservative party ran a woman on its ticket) will be a highlight for so much more than Obama's nonwhiteness.
So ... now to you faithful readers and students. What will be in those textbooks 50 years from now?