Friday, January 19, 2007

Constellation Building and Teaching History

I have been asked by students several times why they should study history. They think learning a few facts is fine but they do not expect to learn anything that is will open up a floodgate of knowledge building. The assumption on their part is that most of the past is known already and even new historical discoveries only help to fill in blanks about which is generally known. To them, exciting historical discoveries are rare and the student is unlikely to engage in that type of research in his or her life anyway. Hence, history is just boring facts.

I came upon a good analogy to help explain why I think the student may wish to study history. Robert Estabrook in 1992 wrote "Constellation Building: Leadership for Effective Schools" which was published in Contemporary Education, 63(2), pp. 91-92. In it, he wrote that leadership was much like the stars in the sky. No one star can completely light up the night sky no matter how bright the star is. In addition, by drawing different lines between stars, one can see different constellations. This is an apt metaphor for what I have learned of educational leadership. No one theory or organizational model alone can solve all problems that a leader may face. Further, by connecting theories and ideas together in different ways, new solutions can often be found which were not apparent before.

This can translate directly into teaching about history. There is a lot of historical knowledge out there. In addition, there are lots of different ways to look at the same facts. Further, there are other disciplines (religion, art, sociology, philosophy, etc.) which intersect with history and use it in different ways. The job of the students is to look at the stars (the historical facts and different perspectives) and in their own minds create new constellations (new lines) with the knowledge. History is not static and dull but instead a way for students to use their insight to see that what is known in new ways.

Not all students buy into this view. However, some students do appreciate this explanation and seem to view history more seriously. In my way, I think keeping this blog is following this tradition as maybe I am helping a reader or two find their own new historical constellations.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fatal Immunity and the 1918 Flu Virus

ABC has this report on why the 1918 flu virus was so deadly in Fatal Immunity and the 1918 Flu Virus. The bug that spread around the word was more deadly than the last year of deaths caused by World War One. Over 50 million people died.

Siri Nillson reported, "The flu virus that killed roughly 50 million people worldwide in 1918 is alive and still very deadly. New research sheds light on how the 1918 Spanish flu virus might have killed so many people so quickly — and opens new horizons for researchers who hope to avoid a flu pandemic today. Scientists regenerated the 1918 virus Jurassic-Park-like from a frozen corpse two years ago. Now scientists have discovered that the regenerated virus can kill monkeys much as it killed humans in 1918, by kicking the immune system into dangerous overdrive, which ultimately kills the infected host."

Most of the victims were healthy people in the prime of life. Why? Because healthy people have strong immune systems. And it was the immune systems of the victims which appears to have killed them. The elderly and the very young had weaker immune systems and hence were less likely to die.

Nillson concluded, "Bottom line — new research on the regenerated 1918 flu virus shows just how deadly the virus really is. The new research could eventually lead scientists to a new therapy, to a new way of treating deadly flu viruses."

This is important as more deadly flu bugs will appear in the future to influence history. Maybe the researchers can find something which will help to short circuit the next pandemic.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

French sought union with Britain in '56

Absolutely shocking history news out of Europe! The International Herald Tribune is reporting in French sought union with Britain in '56 the almost unthinkable.

From the article, "Would France have been better off under Queen Elizabeth II? The revelation that the French government proposed a union of Britain and France in 1956 — even offering to accept the sovereignty of the British Queen — has left scholars on both sides of the Channel scratching their heads. Newly discovered documents in Britain's National Archives show how a former French prime minister, Guy Mollet, discussed the possibility of a merger between the two countries with Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden of Britain."

Of course, the Sir Eden had the good sense to turn the Mollett down. Had Britain accepted, the French would have lynched Mollett and killed the deal quickly.

And for the French to accept the Queen? The article continues, "Mollet was a socialist, and leftist Frenchmen looked to the execution of their king Louis XVI as one of the crowning achievements of the French Revolution. They would have been unlikely to welcome a foreign monarch with open arms." This is probably why Mollett never mentioned this proposal in his memoirs.

So, what would the new Union Jack have looked like? Would God Save the Queen been altered? Could the French and English have played on the same side of the pitch during the World Cup? Would the new country have been called Frangland? History can be so fun.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The 46th History Carnival

The newest history carnival is up at Investigations of a Dog. It is a good and large carnival so go check it out!

The next History Carnival will be held on 1st February by nonpartisan at Progressive Historians. Submit any good posts on history published in the next two weeks using the submission form, or e-mail them to: nonpartisan at progressivehistorians dot.com.