It will have occurred to some readers that the notion that the key pedagogical principles of history can be stated in the form of five “I“s is a little too convenient, if not downright gimmicky. Nonetheless, the principles are what they are, and they happen to each start with the letter “i.” (Those readers who adhere to a code of rational egoism may find this fact mildly amusing.)
I consider the three Is introduced thus far to be the cardinal values of history. They are forms of that which by means of history we seek to gain and or keep: powerful knowledge. I have discussed these three Is with my students at various junctures, and so it may have surprised some of you to find that the number of them had expanded from three to five. The reason for the expansion is that the next two key Is in the Powell History method are the means to those ends, which I’ve come to recognize as being as crucial as the ends themselves.
In evaluating the successes of my courses for adults and children over the past five years, I’ve had the opportunity to confirm without a doubt that in the pursuit of powerful knowledge about the past, the fundamental challenge is epistemological.
History is a plethora of facts. When presented in an un- or dis-integrated manner, its vast constellation of facts are impossible to understand or remember. Only by brute-force rote memorization do professional historians manage to do so within their subspecializations, but for normal (and psychologically healthy) human beings, who lack the motivation to pursue useless information, the past is an insurmountable overabundance of information.
That is why integration is the key to learning history.
“Integration,” in the words of philosopher Ayn Rand, “is a cardinal function of man’s consciousness on all the levels of his cognitive development. First, his brain brings order into his sensory chaos by integrating sense data into percepts…His next step is the integration of percepts into concepts, as he learns to speak. Thereafter, his cognitive development consists in integrating concepts into wider and ever wider concepts, expanding the range of his mind.”
By means of historical integration, one’s awareness can expand to include 5000 years of recorded human experience across the full spectrum of human civilizations.
“IN THE PURSUIT OF POWERFUL KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE PAST, THE FUNDAMENTAL CHALLENGE IS EPISTEMOLOGICAL.”
Powell History integrates history like never before. The secret of the Powell History method is called “periodization.” Properly understood, periodization is not merely the breaking up of history into periods, but an abstract process of differentiation and integration, where the ultimate aim is the organization of history into a conceptually coherent whole. It is only in this form that history can optimally deliver the values of instruction, insight, and inspiration.
Students of the A First History for Adults series are already familiar with this technique to some extent. It has actually been applied with far more rigor, and with fantastic results in the junior high and high school classes of History At Our House — which has allowed me to learn that much more about it and thus permitted me to study and communicate history with an ever greater efficiency. (The power of this method will be demonstrated to a new degree in the upcoming A First History for Adults Part 5: Japan, China, and India, coming this summer. Registration opens in April, so stay tuned!)
Part of the purpose of the PHR newsletter, is to help my students and all adult learners of history better understand this method by acting as a forum to publish information about the ongoing development of this method, including the application of the method to specific examples from ancient, European, American, and world history, which brings us to the fifth “I”…