In my work as a digital storyteller and designer of interactive experiences for cities, historic homes, and museums, I have observed that many young people — and even some adults — think history is boring.
I believe it’s not history that’s boring, but the way it’s presented.
History is not simply a chronology of names, dates, and facts to be memorized. It's a fascinating collection of wonderful interconnected stories, extraordinary adventures, incredible innovations, revolutionary breakthroughs, horrid acts of injustice, as well as astonishing gestures of kindness. If told well, such tales can capture even the youngest imagination and bring to life any past era or event, no matter how distant.
So how can you help #TurnHistoryOn for the young people in your life?
Here are my Top 10 Tips:
1) TAKE THEM THERE
I realize this isn’t always realistic, but there’s nothing more personal than standing at the site where history took place. It gives you a closer, more personal perspective on events.
Make history real.
2) FIND SOMEONE WHO CAN LEAD THE WAY
I’ll never forget visiting the Normandy beaches with my daughter Lily and her Grandpa Jules, who had been part of the 1944 D-Day invasion. Lily was so turned on by her grandfather's stories that the librarian at her school called to ask my permission for her to check out a stack of WWII-related books, including The Diary of Anne Frank.
“Isn’t Lily too young for that topic?” she asked. Lily was then only nine years old.
“Not if she’s turned on,” I said.
Make history relevant. Harness intrinsic interest. That's the best "way in."
3) CAN'T GET THERE?
Set up an exchange with someone who was there or who has encyclopedic knowledge of the era or topic: a relative, scholar, or friend. In my experience, witnesses to and/or experts about historical events are always eager to share their personal knowledge.
They usually do so through 1st-person anecdotal storytelling, too, which is the most compelling point of view, particularly for youth: it puts them closer to the action.
Make history personal.
4) GIVE THEM ACCESS TO THE “ALBUM"
Looking at artifacts, such as old photos, paintings, or clothing, is a great way to create associations, spark memories, and make meaning of a former time. So offer youth the stories, dress, diet, music, dance, rituals, hairstyles, living conditions, fears, hopes, etc., of those who lived through humanity’s most seminal moments. That will grab them.
Make history fun.
5) PUT THEM CLOSE TO THE ACTION:
HAVE A FAMILY FILM NIGHT
Even if the story is fictional, it will be based on true events and placed in a setting authentic to the age. (Besides, is there really any better way to get close to your kids than sharing some popcorn and a cuddle in front of a great movie?)
Make history shareable.
6) READ A BOOK PLACED IN THE TARGET SETTING
Everybody loves a good story. Whether novel, biography, autobiography, history, that’s another no-stress way to be transported back in time.
And here's a tip-within-a-tip: kids respond to 1st-person tales best. There's no better point-of-view to pull them right into the action and get them walking around in the characters' shoes.
Make history important.
7) WATCH A DOCUMENTARY
Once intrinsic motivation is tapped, supplement it with a documentary. That's when the content will be the most riveting, not before. (Could it be the 3rd-person delivery?) Be sure to tap intrinsic interest at just the right time. That's a surefire way to turn them on to history.
Make history matter.
8) LINK IT TO TODAY
What is happening in the world right now that can be linked to the historical moment and story under investigation? Whose rhetoric and actions today sound and look like those from yesterday? Make it the topic of dinner table and classroom conversation.
Make history now.
10) SEEK OUT WAYS TO MAKE HISTORY PERSONAL, RELEVANT, AND REAL
That way, you reach young people through empathy, on an emotional, human level. This is when history transforms from mere facts and dates to the stuff that tugs at the heartstrings, never to be forgotten.
Make history memorable.
9) LET THEM LEAD
Whether they choose to explore World War II, for example, through the Diary of Anne Frank or via a non-fiction account of Patton’s military strategy, every avenue is a “way in” and the best “ways in” to history are motivated by personal (i.e., intrinsically motivated) interest. In short...
Make history theirs.
This is when history becomes sticky:
remembered rather than memorized.
That's when History Turns On.
There has never been a more critical time to #TurnHistoryOn,
for a past forgotten is too easily repeated.