Because as children we are not taught how to seek the living past in the present, most people never develop what I call the “history habit.”
The “history habit,” like its more famous cousin the “reading habit,” is an ingrained intellectual method of functioning. It means studying history as an automatic, unquestioned behavioral pattern. It means that seeking to gain and sustain an awareness of the past on a regular basis comes as naturally as turning on the TV after a hard day’s work.
In my experience the fact that adult students, through no fault of their own, do not have the history habit, is the single most limiting factor in their ability to gain insight, inspiration, and instruction from history. Even students of Powell History who find themselves carried along by the compelling narrative of ancient, European, American, or any other history, tend to take their history classes and then, returning to their normal lives, find that the content simply slips away. Because history is not integrated into their intellectual lives, they can’t retain the facts — a psycho-epistemological problem I call the problem of “sinking concretes” — and in the absence of any integrated factual framework (i.e. a “big picture” outlook) from which to productively continue their studies, they find themselves back where they started.
Not entirely, to be sure. Any student who has been inspired by A First History for Adults at least gains a more positive outlook on what history can be and may be inclined to dabble in it here or there, seeking ways to incorporate it into one’s professional life, political activism, or investing practices, as the case may be. Some who have the time and motivation go back and listen to courses repeatedly.
Any form of periodic review of one’s studies of history is what I mean by “iteration”–the fifth “I“ of history.
If one’s goal in studying history is powerful knowledge, then regularly revisiting and expanding one’s historical knowledge base is actually a necessity. Powerful knowledge means useful knowledge, means knowledge that is used. Here the popular phrase “use it, or lose it” definitely applies.
One form of iteration is simply going over the same content again, as in simply retaking Powell History courses. (When you buy one, you get permanent access, so there’s no extra cost to re-listening. And you can keep a personal recording for yourself as well.) Another, complementary approach is to use the resources that I provide in the various First History for Adults courses that I call “first histories,” which can be used in conjunction with my courses or after them.
In recognition of the challenges involved in the upkeep of historical knowledge for non-historians, I’m also going to be creating some other easier ways for Powell History students to keep their knowledge vital and relevant.
One is free one-hour video and audio lectures on various topics, including summaries of American, European, and ancient history. Not only will these videos be the best introduction to the histories of any particular nation for those who haven’t taken my courses yet, but they will also be a great way for former students to go back and revisit the content they’ve seen before, as well as a way to motivate them to revisit the lectures they’ve taken which provide more detail.
Another way will be to follow the new PHR newsletter, either by subscribing to this blog or my e-mail list. The newsletter will help adult students acquire the history habit, despite not having done so in childhood, simply by offering a regular, accessible presentation of historical topics, often connected to current events, to help people build a bridge between the past and their own values here and now, and to regularly practice fostering that connection.
I’m going to call the feature the “History Pop Quiz,” and my goal is to make it a weekly one. Look for it, coming soon!