The More Languages You Know… : Learning Languages in the Ancient World

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Inscription in Old Persian, Elamite and ‌Akkadian languages. It is carved on a column in Pasargadae.

In South Australia, a tribe in Encounter Bay tells this story: In remote time an old woman, named Wurruri lived towards the east and generally walked with a large stick in her hand, to scatter the fires around which others were sleeping, Wurruri at length died. Greatly delighted at this circumstance, they sent messengers in all directions to give notice of her death; men, women and children came, not to lament, but to show their joy. The Raminjerar were the first who fell upon the corpse and began eating the flesh, and immediately began to speak intelligibly. The other tribes to the eastward arriving later, ate the contents of the intestines, which caused them to speak a language slightly different. The northern tribes came last and devoured the intestines and all that remained, and immediately spoke a language differing still more from that of the Raminjerar.

According to one Hindu myth, there was once a very tall tree that grew out from the very center of the earth. It was called the “World Tree” or “Knowledge Tree”, and grew so tall that it almost reached the heavens. The tree decided that it would keep growing so that its head would be in heaven and its branches on the earth, so it could make all humankind gather under it and prevent them from ever separating. The god Brahma discovered the tree’s intentions and as punishment for it being so proud, he cut off all of the tree’s branches and scattered them all over the earth. Where each branch fell a Wata tree began to grow, and with it a new language and culture for humankind.

The need for the ability to communicate in multiple languages is as old as human history itself. In the Ancient Near East, Akkadian was the language of diplomacy. Centuries later, Latin became the dominant language of education, commerce, religion and government in much of Europe until it was mostly replaced by French, Italian and English by the end of the 16th century. Right now, more than half the people in the world are bilingual. Then, we have the polyglots, who are capable of speaking not one or two but at least five different languages fluently. Such a skill is widely looked upon with fascination, if not envy, inviting a wishful yet somewhat defeated sigh of “oh, I wish I can speak (insert language here)”. 

Learning languages, as the ancients tell us, is difficult but not impossible. In fact, it was and has always been necessary. Those ancient historians and mythologists would have learned other languages. Ovid, in compiling his Metamorphoses, one of the most complete work on mythological stories, would have combined his creativity and his knowledge of ancient Greek to be able to describe those mythological scenes in great details. At the time of its extinction, only a few educated Romans with antiquarian interests could read Etruscan language. The last person known to have been able to read Etruscan was the Roman emperor Claudius (10 BC – AD 54) who, in his youth, wanted to be a historian and authored a treatise in 20 volumes on the Etruscans, called Tyrrenikà and compiled a dictionary by interviewing the last few elderly rustics who still spoke the language.

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Sinop bilingual inscription of Kaykaus I

The Roman historian and author Pliny the Elder credited Mithridates VI as the Empire’s most formidable of enemies. Under him, the Kingdom of Pontus – in modern-day Turkey – fought and defeated the late Roman Republic in several battles of the Mithridatic Wars. While he eventually lost, Mithidrates reputation would only grow over the subsequent years and centuries as a one of the greatest polyglots who ever lived. Mithridates made a point of learning the languages of the peoples his vast kingdom ruled over. Pliny noted in Volume 7 of his Natural History: “Mithridates, who was king of 22 nations, administered their laws in as many languages, and could harangue in all of them, without employing an interpreter.” He event went one step further: although his kingdom didn’t stretch that far, Mithridates was also fluent in ancient Persian. Contemporary accounts noted that he spoke the language with Persian prisoners – before he killed them, of course. 

Descended from Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Cleopatra was part of a dynasty that ruled over Egypt for more than three centuries. In fact, she was the last Ptolemaic ruler of the north African state, reigning for 21 years. She was also highly intelligent, not least in her recognition that learning languages could help her consolidate and grow her power. As with all the Ptolemaic rulers, Cleopatra spoke Greek as her native tongue. But while none of her predecessors bothered to learn the language of the people they ruled over, Cleopatra was different. Either way, speaking the local tongue was what a modern-day politician would call an excellent PR exercise as it kept the populace on her side. This was most probably the reason Cleopatra learned to speak at least another six languages. As Plutarch noted in his history The Life of Anthony: “And her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with barbarians she very seldom had the need of an interpreter, but made her replies to most of them herself…whether they were Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Partians.”

Two thousand years ago, learning Latin just seemed to be the thing to do to progress. When the Romans ruled a vast empire whose inhabitants spoke all sorts of different languages, many of those inhabitants wanted to learn Latin as a second or third language. So they signed up for Latin classes, where they learned using textbooks with little dialogues about everyday life. These dialogues are similar to texts used today to teach foreign languages. The dialogues introduced learners to both Latin and the Roman culture. They illustrate how to use the public baths, the banks, the markets, the temples, the lawcourts and so on.

Ancient Latin learners, in fact, did most of the things modern Latin learners do. In addition to learning grammar, they translated Latin texts into their own language, and texts from their own language into Latin. They read Virgil’s Aeneid, although they usually didn’t get very far into the story, and Cicero’s Catilinarian Orations. When they had gained enough vocabulary to be able to cope with reading without a  translation, they read monolingual Latin texts, using dictionaries and commentaries to decipher them and writing translations of the hard words into their copies of the text. And, like many modern learners, some ancient learners eventually became very good at the language and went on to read texts without needing to look up the hard words and write them down.

Before the 20th century, language teaching methodology went back and forth between two types of approaches: language use – that is, speaking and understanding, and analysis – learning the grammatical rules. The Classical Greek and Medieval Latin periods were characterized by a strong emphasis on teaching people to actually use foreign languages as they were used as lingua francas. Later, higher instruction was given in these languages all over Europe and they were also used very widely in religion, politics and business – making them necessary for everyone. Although the “educated elite” became fluent speakers, readers and writers of the appropriate classical language, merely using the foreign language was no longer special as even an uneducated shopkeeper could use them if he practiced enough. Then the ability to analyse the languages became the mark of the “educated” and the practical aspect of the languages gradually disappeared.  

The focus in language study shifted back to utility rather than analysis during the 17th Century. Perhaps the most famous language teacher and methodologist of this period is Jan Comentius, a Czech, who published books about his teaching techniques between 1631 and 1658.  He wrote a complete course for learning Latin, covering the entire school curriculum, culminating in his Opera Didactica Omnia, 1657. In this work, Comenius also outlined his theory of language acquisition. Some of the techniques that he used were very simple: use imitation instead of rules to teach a language, have your students repeat after you, use a limited vocabulary initially, help your students practice reading and speaking, teach languages through pictures to make it meaningful. – basically all the things one would do to teach a language to a very young child. Not surprisingly he also published the world’s first illustrated children’s book, Orbis sensualium pictus. Thus Comenius made explicit for the first time an inductive approach to learning a language, the goal of which was to teach use rather than analysis of the language being taught.  

Comenius’ views held sway through most of the 18th Century; however, by the beginning of the 19th Century the systematic study of the grammar of Classical Latin and of classical texts had once again taken over in schools and universities throughout Europe. Based on the purely academic study of Latin, students of modern languages did much of the same exercises, studying grammatical rules and translating abstract sentences. Oral work was minimal, and students were instead required to memorize grammatical rules and apply these to decode written texts in the target language. This tradition-inspired method became known as the grammar-translation method.

The pendulum then swung back to practical uses of languages when businessman and scholar James Hamilton seemed to find the ancient Roman way of language teaching effective. He, in fact, believed that the Ancients knew how to study language better than modern day students. Hamilton popularized “interlinear translations,” an ancient method of studying Greek and Latin, and applied the system to French, Italian, and German as well. Interlinear translation made the study of texts the dominant focus of the teaching of foreign languages. “Reading,” Hamilton wrote, “is the only real, the only effectual source of instruction. It is the pure spring of nine-tenths of our intellectual enjoyments. . . . Neither should it be sacrificed to grammar or composition, nor to getting by heart any thing whatever, because these are utterly unobtainable before we have read a great deal.”

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Then it became confusing. Innovation in foreign language teaching began in the 19th century and became very rapid in the 20th century. It led to a number of different and sometimes conflicting methods, each claiming to be a major improvement over the previous or contemporary methods. However, anecdotal evidence for successful second or foreign language learning is easy to find, leading to a discrepancy between these cases and the failure of most language programs. This tends to make the research of second language acquisition emotionally charged. Older methods and approaches such as the grammar translation mehod and the direct method are dismissed and even ridiculed, as newer methods and approaches are invented and promoted as the only and complete solution to the problem of the high failure rates of foreign language students.

Most books on language teaching list the various methods that have been used in the past, often ending with the author’s new method. These new methods are usually presented as coming only from the author’s mind, as the authors generally give no credence to what was done before and do not explain how it relates to the new method. It is also often inferred or even stated that older methods were completely ineffective or have died out completely, though in reality even the oldest methods are still in use. Proponents of new methods have been so sure that their ideas are so new and so correct that they could not conceive that the older ones have enough validity to cause controversy. This was in turn caused by emphasis on new scientific advances, which has tended to blind researchers to precedents in older work.

Evolution of Languages and Writings (Time Maps Book 3) by [Fisher, R.K., Fisher, Martini]

Dr. R.K Fisher and I discuss a lot more about the evolution of ancient languages and writings on “Time Maps: Evolution of Languages and Writings” – available through this link.


In Defense of Mythology: Some Things Cannot be Explained by Science

now-sing-about-the-race-of-women-sweet-voicedolympian-muses-daughters-of-aegis-bearing-zeussing-of-those-who-were-the-best-of-their-timewho-loosened-their-girdlesmingling-in-union-wi3.jpgWe often hear that something being dismissed as “just a myth”, which means that it is not true. In fact, myth and truth are often seen as opposites. If it is not analysed, written down in reports and be  seen or heard, then it is a myth. For many, mythology is the study of old, meaningless and untrue stories. Some people, repelled by the myths’ more preposterous elements and contradictions, see them as mere fabrications to be discarded in our “enlightened” age. But mythology’s enduring worth is never in its possible historical or scientific accuracy. Some things can be dealt with adequately only in poetry or mythology when recitals of data and observable facts miss the point completely. Love, hate, empathy, aversion, hunger, greed, altruism and all the other positive and negative aspects of being human are also facts. To ignore them by putting everything into numbers is to treat people as insensate objects and their lives as mechanical conditioned responses. This is the statistical perspective and it is as much a distortion of reality as any other limited point of view.

The word “family” is in itself a complicated word containing many combinations of facts, memories, meanings and feelings – it is impossible to describe the concept of “family” by series of facts alone. Every culture’s pantheon of mythical characters was the family in to which every person of that culture was born, as these creatures were as familiar as their parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins. Therefore, a myth is also not a simple proposition that can be judged as true or false  propositions. Rather, it attempts to make sense of our perceptions and feelings within our experience of the world in a narrative format. Myths have been there long before art, language or the written word.

Charles Paul Landon (1761-1826), “Icarus and Daedalus”

Of course, there are certainly many aspects of myths are not literally true. However, we understand the stories about the Greek gods because they share some of our emotions and ambitions – two things we cannot measure even if we tried. The stories of Icarus, for example, resonates with us because we have all experienced within ourselves  tendencies to try to fly too high or to force things that has no business happening to begin with, only to crash and burn. Although, as human experience is so multidimensional and varied, no myth can completely represent all of human experience, a myth still captures some important aspects of the domain of human experience it is meant to represent. It is like a map which captures only important features of the terrain but not every detail of the terrain it represents. And just like looking at maps, we learn through imagination, as we feel and visualize the colorful adventures of the deities or heroes. Although mythology is not a literal description of a culture’s history, we can still use myths to explore the culture itself – its viewpoints, activities, and beliefs, and address some of our fundamental and difficult questions that human beings ask: who and what am I, where did I come from, why am I here, how did it all begin?

Bartholomeus Spranger (1546-1611), “Hermes and Athena”

Truthfully, we are still fascinated by the truths of these mythical stories and we still cry out for magic in our so-called rational world. As human beings are never meant to be totally rational, we crave a bit of mystery to counter our apparent understanding and mastery of the world.  To lend this comfort of mystery, humanity have had deities for many aspects of life. The Egyptians had more than 2000 deities while the Hindus have 333 million. The Irish honored both the goddess of rivers (Boann) and the goddess of the Lagan River (Logia). There have been deities for individual cities (Athena for Athens), mountains (Gauri-Sankar for Mount Everest), lakes, tribes, plant species, temples, constellations, and so on. Deities governed not only major phenomena such as agriculture or love or the sun, but also such common matters as leisure, the kitchen stove, guitars, politics, prostitution, singing, doors, virginity, willpower, firecrackers, gambling, drunkenness and the toilet. Deities have governed virtually every possible activity, object, and emotion, lending a bit of their magic into what would have been rather mundane and tedious interactions.

now-sing-about-the-race-of-women-sweet-voicedolympian-muses-daughters-of-aegis-bearing-zeussing-of-those-who-were-the-best-of-their-timewho-loosened-their-girdlesmingling-in-union-wi9.jpgAs myths are necessary, our modern society develops its own myths. A lack of myths can cause a sense of meaninglessness, estrangement, rootlessness, and the cold brittleness of a life devoid of reverence and awe. Now our “modern” myths seem to rest on certain concepts (such as “progress”) and in our larger-than-life celebrities. We revered Mother Teresa for her compassion and Albert Einstein for his intellect. Marilyn Monroe was a “screen goddess” possessed by the alluring qualities of Aphrodite while Muhammad Ali called on the aggressive instinct of Ares every time he stepped into the boxing ring. Through all these reverence we somewhat conveniently leave out the fact that Albert Einstein failed every exams he had in his school days, Marilyn Monroe was ultimately a tragic and lonely figure and Muhammad Ali was a gentle man off the ring – in short, they were all human, vulnerable and fragile. The media enlarges certain people to mythical proportions. We often project the “hero” archetype onto other people. Corporations myth lies in their “corporate culture.” There is a myth in every group and our mythology changes as our culture changes.

now-sing-about-the-race-of-women-sweet-voicedolympian-muses-daughters-of-aegis-bearing-zeussing-of-those-who-were-the-best-of-their-timewho-loosened-their-girdlesmingling-in-union-wi10.jpgWe each have our own mythology which we create. We have things and people which are important and valued to us personally. We are heroes in our “mythic journeys” by which we romanticize our various passages through life. The truly satisfying and exciting myths are those which arise from our own passions and our own visions. It just so happens that some of those myths have existed since the ancient times.

New Release – Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture

book cover 6x9 goddess culture

What happened when women ruled the world?

There are many questions about the Old Culture – a culture even before history was written. Whatever happened to the Great Goddess? When did patriarchy start? How did women become objectified? This book is about the Journey of ancient women with their many glories and challenges. It talks about the gender partitioning which still survived in some cultures today, women as warriors, advisers, goddesses and properties.

Chapters included are:
•The Goddess Paradigm
•Women Warrior
•Dethroning the Queen of Heaven
•The Queen in Exile

Written with a Mathematician’s precision and a Historian’s curiosity, Time Maps covers over millennia worth of developments & impacts of civilizations, migrations, leaders and continents. Illuminating concepts of societies, dynasties, heroes, kings and eras through incisive and thorough research, looking at ideas, theories & world views with a sense of wonder and delight.

Set to publish on 1 January 2018

Now available for pre-order here



A Balanced Partitioning: Gender Roles and a Society where Sexism Doesn’t Exist

goddess - Unisex_pictogramI am currently working on my part for the fourth Time Maps book called “Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture”. Therefore, my research will play a considerable role in my blog narrative for a while. I will start with an often misused word: “The Matrix”.

The root “matri” denotes the womb, so words such as matriarchal and matrilineal refer to social structures where women have major roles. The word “matrix” is also from the same root, and denotes an all-encompassing context, or a source of generation – again like a womb. So let’s look at some words with “matri” in it:

Matriarchy is government by women, also called gynocracy. A matrilineal society is one in which descent is defined through the female line. In ancient times matriarchal and matrilineal societies were much more common than they are now. This usually relates to rights of inheritance and definitions of clans or extended families, but one can also find traces of it in ancient Egypt, where for long periods the right to the throne was through the female line. It makes sense really, since one usually knows who a baby came out of, but one cannot always be sure who put it in there. A matrifocal society is one in which the culture and social structures are centered on the roles of the women. This is a more nebulous concept than matriarchy and matrilineality, and difficult to define precisely – but let’s look at a contemporary example.

Almost all newspaper and television reportage these days are about the activities of men, with emphasis on wars, business, and various forms of political and commercial debates. Because many of our cultures are mainly patrifocal, even patriarchal, these things are considered important. However, we could just as easily have matrifocal cultures, in which matters of childraising and care for future generations, education, family welfare, and other matters of interest and concern to women are given major media coverage. Men’s issues, such as war and football, could be relegated to a special page at the back of newspapers and magazines with a title like “For Him”, or “The Men’s Page”. There could even be special television programs for men, in which one could see the latest trends in warfare from those creative people in Washington, or frivolous technological fashions from Japan. So being matrifocal or patrifocal reflects what the culture considers to be important.

Matriarchy lasted for more than 30,000 years, declined over a period of five thousand years and became extinct about a thousand years ago. Chinese writings refer to the existence of a matriarchal empire in Tibet in the sixth and seventh centuries of the Common Era, during the rise of the Tang Dynasty in China.

As early as the Eleventh Dynasty of Egypt, royal succession became fixed in the female line. The child of a royal princess could reign as pharaoh by right of descent even if her husband was a commoner. The children of a prince with a commoner were excluded from the succession completely. Diodorus states that queens in Egypt were shown greater respect and possessed more power than kings, and in all of the monuments and paintings, only queens wear the triple crown, signifying ecclesiastical, judicial and sovereign power.

Another type of society is partitioned on gender lines. There is a lot of gender partitioning in all cultures as it is a major part of how we tell the difference between girls and boys – but the structures of some societies are defined by it. It is more easily seen in smaller societies such as the tribes and bands of hunter-gatherers in Australia and New Guinea, and it was a key feature of the pre-invasion cultures of North America and Oceania. In this kind of society the roles and responsibilities of men and women are different, and the social rules that apply to them also are different – not one being better or freer than the other, just different. For example in Australia the men went hunting but the women ruled the camp and were responsible for family welfare, for most trade, and for matters of social or group organization. In traditional Polynesia the women did the housework and looked after the small children but the men did the cooking.

goddess - 800px-National_Association_Against_Woman_SuffrageIn places where gender partitioning is strong, a person may refuse to do a certain type of work because it is traditionally done by the other gender. This does not involve any value judgment, for example that the work is beneath them, but simply that the person would be stepping out of his or her place in society to do so. They would be trespassing on the domain of the other gender. This could be discourteous or it could be seen as an insult. Gender partitioning, when properly done, has advantages. Where the roles are clear and equitably balanced, so that the genders can feel self-respect in their functions, any attempt to suppress women would not only be unthinkable, it would be laughable, since to do so would require that the whole structure of the society be subverted. It is when the roles become weak, unbalanced or confused that a gender can be suppressed by the other.

In more recent times, the Federation of Six Nations is the best documented example of a society in which women had key political power. The Six Nations achieved one of the highest forms of government in the history of the world, and it included strong powers and big responsibilities for women. It is an easy habit of speech to say that it “gave” strong powers to the women, but that would be incorrect – the women already had those powers in their own nations, and the constitution of the Six Nations simply continued and formalized them.

In the Six Nations descent was matrilineal, and this was the basis for deciding matters of clan and totem membership. Women’s property rights also were well protected – if a marriage broke up then the woman had the full right to all of the property she had brought into the marriage. A woman’s bond to her children was also respected – when a marriage failed the children almost invariably went with the mother. A Council of Women had a major, and often decisive, role in settling all social disputes and questions of tradition within each tribe and nation. It was the men who went to war but in many areas, after the men had decided for war, they had to get the approval of the Women’s Council, which was not always given. If the women did not agree then the men could not go to war. So in this case the women had a strategic policy role, while the men were concerned with tactical matters. Peace treaties, also, have been preserved that were signed by the “Sachems (chiefs) and Principal Women of the Six Nations”.

These women were certainly not second class citizens in any sense, but they did not have complete control either. The Six Nations was not a matriarchy but it had a much more balanced partitioning of gender roles than most modern societies have. There were variations between the Nations – in some the Council of Women had almost complete legislative authority while in others it was less – but in all cases the women had a prominent role in government. This could also be said of many others among the nations and tribes of North America. So the idea that men “must” have controlled the key political positions, because it is “natural” that the warriors be in charge, is a load of nonsense.

 “Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture” is coming soon. Meanwhile, other volumes of “Time Maps” can be found through this link




How to Make History Interesting to Learn

“Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do learn from history are tearing their hair out in frustration because if anyone’s bothered looking it up, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

I’ve always found that to be true. We’ve seen time and time again the benefit of learning it whether it is individually or globally. However, it is common to hear kids, even adults, say “history is boring!” which makes it a nuisance to learn for a lot of people. It’s like eating your vegetables when you were five: you’ll eat it if you must, but only because your mum tells you that unless you finish your vegetables you can’t have cake.

I wondered about that, and raised these three questions to a few experts who have also spent some time thinking about this in relations to their own lives and works.

Q. What makes you interested in reading historical works (fiction/nonfiction)?

A. David Leonhardt (President, THGM Writers)

History is inherently fascinating.  It is a series of stories of great events and epic battles and accidental discoveries and surviving (or not) great calamities.  Tell the stories.  Show them in film.  I am right now writing a non-fiction novel for a client about a case of corporate espionage and racial profiling.  If I just write a chronology, it would be boring.  But I am writing it like fiction – as a storyteller would – and it will be a fascinating read.  And that is just one of several million stories that are part of history.

A. Ann Smarty (Founder of MyBlogU)

Traveling…. I want to know about the places I visit. Legends. Love stories… The more I travel, the more fascinating it gets. Once I visit a place, I read about it and I want to go back to reinforce my first impression now that I know the beautiful history behind it.

A. amhpodcast (Host – American Military History Podcast)

Ultimately what makes me interested in history is understanding that there’s a personal connection. In the US, everyone remembers what they were doing on September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center was attacked. That same group story echoes throughout history. For example, if we lived in 1940s America, everyone would remember what they were doing when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

When you start diving into history, you realize that it’s ultimately a story of people, and how they lived and reacted to all the situations around them. That connection is what interests me.

A. Julie Syl Kalungi (Mrs)

I like reading non fiction historical works because I get insights on what brings greatness to the world and esp. my world. If the historical works are still impacting the lives of many and going strong.

Its almost impossible to read a real work of historical non fiction that doesn’t talk about humanity and its evolution to where we are today whether in a good or not so god way. Now Historical non-fiction doesn’t really pull on my heartstrings. I like to see lives impacted…and the lessons or successes they expose. And that’s my wee contribution to this discussion!

A. socialwebcafe (Doctoral Candidate, Psychology)

Granted, my background (at least one of them!) is psychology, but I really think that the interest in history has to do with the person.  The other aspect is the environment (i.e. during the “growing up” years).  Ok, don’t get me going or I could get into a “nature versus nurture” discussion.

That said, if someone is not born with a natural curiosity about history, there may be ways to help them to become interested.  For example, through story-telling.

But, keep in mind, we are all different!  I have a history book on the history of psychology.  At first, I rented it from amazon, as a part of the required curriculum for my degree.  I loved it so much that I purchased it.  However, when I suggested it to my daughter, to read, she had little interest.  My daughter does love history, but not psychology history.  So, you see, history has several categories and maybe part of the solution is finding the find sector of history that interests the individual.  Then, there may be a possibility to add other sectors, like pieces of the pie.

A. ElleAgnes

The writing obviously has to be good–that is, it has to be readable. The characters also have to be interesting. You’re not likely to read about Mary Stuart, for example, unless the writing is compelling and if you can’t find something to like or dislike about her (in my case, dislike). Drama is also important. To take the Mary example and run with it–the drama of being kidnapped and forced into marriage makes for a good story, and I think it’s something you can give anyone and they’ll want to learn more.

A. DustanWhitcomb (History Is Coming)

Coming from a film background, it’s important for me that I stay and become literate in historical works to expand my imagination. The best part about reading fictional and nonfictional works of the past is that it’s a full immersion into a world other than the one around us. It’s an exploration of thought, character, time, and conflict, all things that we encounter every day.

Q. What do you think makes the subject of history boring/unrelatable to a lot of people?

A. David Leonhardt (President, THGM Writers)

Timelines.  And countries.  If you don’t know your geography, and especially your historical geography, who cares what Sibervonia did to retaliate against the Bergonista Dynasty.  The story has to be about people and what actually happened to them.  Forget the timelines and the political affiliations; tell the stories and make the students feel like they are there in the stories.

A. Ann Smarty (Founder of MyBlogU)

No connection to the present times. People don’t realize how the past has influenced the present (and hence how today’s action may be impact the future). The history should be learned in connection to present. That’s why I’ve found projects like these really useful and valuable: They help make that connection to get people interested in the history of places they live in or visit.


A. amhpodcast (Host – American Military History Podcast)

When you grow up in a public school system you aren’t taught “history” your taught, “this is what you need to know for a history test”. Granted, there are teachers out there that take it further and make it engaging, but mostly it’s just “learn these facts and regurgitate them”

People also don’t understand that the people that they are reading about in their history books are just like them, they had hopes, dreams, fears, plans for their life, etc… It’s just they were in the right place at the right time and did things that made them worthy of being recorded in history books.

Also, history isn’t just stories from dusty tomes on a shelf, history is a living, breathing story of how we got where we are today.

A. Julie Syl Kalungi (Mrs)

Most people like to live in the now and think about tomorrow. The subject of history is also filled with gory wars, murders, killing, pain and failures. That’s whats predominantly promoted. The good, the day to day successes are not so much shared because they aren’t newsworthy maybe. Gory, death, pain sells and Who wants to be focusing on that if its been and gone?

So in my view bring on the Successes.  That’s what I seek out in my historical subjects, now that I have a choice. The successes I like to focus on are also tainted with of course bloodshed, but they are truly mind blowing and that’s what I like to focus my attention on because Positivity is my life focus.

A. socialwebcafe (Doctoral Candidate, Psychology)

The word “unrelatable” is a good word to use in this question.  I think that is key!  Just like I just relayed, the history of psychology and the origins of the schools of thought in psychology is very interesting to me.  However, I am a doctoral student in… yes… psychology.  My daughter, who is exceptional in the cosmetology world, would be more interested in history related to cosmetology.

I think we need to think less about history as one-word, as one general concept, and more so as pieces in a pie, especially if we are trying to gain interest in history and sectors of history.  That is where we may be able to find success in the word, “relatable.”

A. ElleAgnes

Lack of relevance. The history of baseball bores me, because I just don’t care that much about baseball or sports history too much. But I’ve been known to watch a movie or read a book on a topic that bores me because something about the story was personal enough to pique my interest. “The Blind Side” is interesting to large swathes of people because there’s cultural contexts–poverty, literacy, racial politics–that apply to a good amount of the population.

A. DustanWhitcomb (History Is Coming)

I think that people look at history as boring or obsolete because the future is so exciting – and it is! It may not live up to The Jetsons, but the future is entrancing because we never know what could happen as technology evolves. But I would counter with this: The future absolutely has parallels to the past and that is of concern because the most important events of our past are also the biggest problems that we’ve ever faced. In order to prevent those things from happening again, we need to further our knowledge about what led to those events while proactively do something about the problems of today and tomorrow.

Q. If you’re given full reign (financial support, good resources etc) what would you do to “sell” the subject of history to the public?

A. David Leonhardt (President, THGM Writers)

I would hire the world’s best fiction writers to relate the stories most important for people to learn.  I would capture those stories in film shorts.  Then, most importantly, every student would put on a short play based on a historical story, one per week.  Between the plays they put on and those of their classmates that they watch, one year of history would be worth their entire school career as it is taught today.

A. Ann Smarty (Founder of MyBlogU)

I’d enroll schools into building a resource like Historypin. Think how much opportunity there is:

  • Kids can help by contributing family photo archives
  • You can set up a contest to select the best photo of a month / year and then set up a school / class tour to the winning place where students can compare what it looked like with what it is now, tasked to write essays to tell more about the history of the place, etc etc

I think projects like that coupled with the enthusiasm of students would benefit everyone: Kids would share their excitement at home and with friends spreading the knowledge and awareness!

A. amhpodcast (Host – American Military History Podcast)

I suppose in a way with my podcast, I’m already doing this, although I don’t have full financial support. If finances weren’t an option, I’d start up several podcasts, maybe some video series as well, and just get people engaged in learning about the past.

A. socialwebcafe (Doctoral Candidate, Psychology)

Again, my answer is going to be influenced by where I am at in life.  Where I am at is that of a researcher, in finishing my doctorate in psychology.  Therefore, unlimited resources, finances, access to people, etc. would mean that I would design a research project.  In essence, I would take what you have done here (good job!) in the research area, and expand it.  I would do what is called a “qualitative” interview (what we think of as a normal one-on-one interview) to identify ideas to help people to fall in love with history, or I would use what is called a “quantitative” research approach which is like a survey, helping to identify what it is that helps people to fall in love with the study of history.

And, that said, those steps are available to use as “common people” in the use of tools like (thanks, Ann!) and  Hmmm… There might even be a case study or infographic in the works…

A. ElleAgnes

Movies, television, and art are incredibly effective in interesting people in topics of history. Consumers buy movies and TV shows today without any knowledge of the history behind–see the success of ‘The Tudors” or “Boardwalk Empire”–because they’re well marketed. The use of beautiful art–whether modern or contemporary to the topic–is also helpful, because it gives a face to the name. When students see the famous portrait mural of Henry VIII, they want to know about this man, because the face is interesting and memorable. Portraits of Mary Stuart make her appear beautiful, and frankly, the imagination is captivated by beauty. If you can use visual or dramatic aid in any way, you’ll pull people in.


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