I consider myself fairly well-versed in history. I had books by Thucydides, Daniel Boorstin, Charles van Doren, John Herman Randall Jr., Alexis de Tocqueville, David Halberstam, Gerhard Weinberg, John Keegan and Victor Davis
Hanson on my bookshelf years before I ever heard of Scott Powell and his First History for Adults. I could recite the names of all the Presidents, in order, along with the years in which they were elected. In short, I was about the last person in my social circle who would have been expected to need a refresher in American history. But I took the class anyhow, and am very glad I did. Why?
I took Scott Powell’s course for three basic purposes. First, as a check on whether my grasp on American history was as solid as I thought it was. Second, as a check on his grasp of American history, to help me decide whether to take a subsequent course on European history where my own knowledge is much shakier. And third, because I knew something of the pedagogical theories he used in developing the course and wanted to see how they would work in practical application.
All three of those purposes were well satisfied by the course. But to my great pleasure, Scott did me one better. Although my grasp of American history was pretty good going in, it’s even better coming out. Scott’s periodization techniques let me take a bunch of historical facts and integrate them together into a multi-layered narrative flow. This not only makes it easier to retain the facts themselves, it provides a context for judging their significance. Which events are critical turning points, and which are simply the playing out of decisions already made? (The answers may surprise you; they did me.) The final periodization, in which the overall course of American history is boiled down into an essentialized flow-chart that fits on a single sheet of paper, is ingenious on so many levels that words fail me.
Before taking the course, I knew the facts of history. Now I know how to watch those facts live and breathe, and breed new facts as the story of history progresses.
I’m looking forward to the next course, European History, with great anticipation.