Fun & Easy Ways to Learn History: Listen to your elders!

Note: This blog post can also be heard as a part of podcast series, "6 Fun and Easy ways to learn history."You can find this series in the podcast section called Listen Up!

Hello History friends and welcome back to rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history!

I’m glad that you are continuing to read this continuing with this great and groundbreaking and amazingly inspirational series called “6 Fun and Easy Ways to learn History.” Many people will discuss history and why history is so important but they often forget one thing: It can be amazingly inspirational. Many people forget (or they just don’t realize) that history is about people—their stories, their experiences, their successes, and their failures. Our lives. Yes, that’s why I repeat that we are remembering history but we’re also making history every day.

In the past two parts of this series, we have discussed different ways to learn and find history. In Part I, we discussed how books about history could be amazingly inspirational. Books that tell stories about people like biographies and autobiographies, narratives like the slave narratives that I read from and, of course, the non-fiction novels that bring history to life are all great sources of history.

I remember reading the book, The Summer of 1787 by David O. Stewart. That brought the Constitutional Convention (when the U.S. Constitution was being drafted) to life. I really felt like I was sitting in that sweltering and sticky room in Philadelphia listening to Alexander Hamilton lobby for greater federal power over the states, watching James Madison scribbling in the corner, writing down everything that was said in the room, and seeing George Washington sitting in front of the room, presiding over the convention.

This book was so vivid that I felt, at times, that I was actually sitting in the pub with the delegates during the evening as they discussed issues from poetry to slavery. That inspired me. Yes, I actually learned to love history and was inspired by history by way of books. But it’s not the same for everyone. I do understand that. You read Part I by clicking here.

In Part II, we discussed great movies about historical events and people that can also be inspirational. Some movies are based on actual events in history like Lincoln, Men of Honor and Amistad. Others were fictionalized works with an historical basis like The Color Purple, Saving Private Ryan and Beloved. All of these movies were incredible and, as I said, amazingly inspirational.

Movies are a great way to access history and to be inspired by the stories, events and the people. I briefly mentioned documentaries are purely non-fiction and can also inspire the viewer. Please don’t overlook them; they are often well made and well researched and tell the stories beautifully. You can read Part II by clicking here.

Well, that’s brings us to Part III of “6 Fun and Easy ways to be to learn history”!

Talk to the elders

By this, I mean that you should talk to your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or anyone whom you trust that is older than you; they are your elders. They could be teachers, neighbors, or even the elderly lady at the coffee shop. Ask them about historical events, people from history or anything from the past. Some of them might have been alive during a certain period or event like the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War, or during the growth dotcom bubble. I have a story that I want to share with you about this method of learning history from talking to your elders.

I try not to have many regrets but one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t spend more time talking with (or rather listening to) my great-grandmother whom we affectionately called Big Mama. She was born just after slavery but had a huge amount of knowledge about it. She also knew about the Reconstruction Era, sharecropping and about life for African Americans in the early part of the 20th century—when slavery was over but Blacks were working to establish themselves as Americans with all the rights and liberties afforded in the Constitution.

How did she know about these things? She was there; she was a witness to the triumphs and tribulations experienced during that time. I was 12 years old when she died in the 1970s. I never took the opportunity to talk with her about these historical events. I am not making the same mistake. Today, I ask my parents who were part of the civil rights movement. I question all the elders that I meet about their life experiences and their thoughts about the history that I’m searching for in books.

Learning from our elders is a tradition that is deeply rooted in African culture and oral traditions. They give us the lessons and give us the background. From them, we get the “big picture.” From them, we get the nuances not found in the textbooks or are edited out of the movies. From our elders, we get our history as a people and the history of our family. We get the history of us. And they love to tell these stories—they feel cherished and knowledgeable. We get to listen to true stories from people who witnessed the great and small events of history. And, remember, that our time to sit in the “elder’s chair” is coming, too!

Now, when I say that we should “talk to” our elders, I really mean that we should listen to them. Just think, this is a real opportunity to talk with a person who might have “sat in” at lunch counters, who walked across that bridge on “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, who went to segregated schools, who marched on Washington, worked with or was actually a member of the Black Panthers, who witnessed the horribly beaten and disfigured body of young Emmett Till, who remembers when Kennedy was assassinated, who remembers the jubilation over the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964, who remembers when the Berlin Wall was brought down or the protests on Tiananmen Square. There have been a lot of changes in the past in the past century years and many people who witnessed these historic events are still here. They are still alive and willing to tell their personal experiences, observations and thoughts about these events. We should not miss this opportunity.

Yes, reading about history is great and inspirational. Yes, watching movies about history is also great and inspirational. But nothing—absolutely nothing--beats actually talking to a person who personally witnessed and lived through history. Just like we are now.

 So, talk to your elders. Listen to their stories. Hear their words. Feel their emotions. Ask your questions. Remember their answers. Really, remember. Remember everything. And be prepared to tell others, to tell your children. Keep history alive. I will conclude with the quote by David McCullough who said, “No harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to read.” In the previous podcast, we took this further to say that no harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to watch.

Today, we are going to take it even further to say that no harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to discuss. So, seize that moment and listen to a real story from a real person from history.

That is all for Part III of this exciting series on Fun & Easy ways to be learn history. It is getting even more amazingly inspirational with each part of the series! So, I encourage you to continue with Part IV—again, no sneak peeks but you can believe that there will be even more groundbreaking, radical and amazingly inspirational ways to be inspired by history.

Just want to remind you that you can get more information on this podcast at the Remembering History Podcast page. And the rememberinghistory.com website is always waiting for you to visit and give your comments. Remember to check out the bookstore.

Finally, you can now hear this show on Stitcher, which is radio on demand. Download the free app from Stitcher.com or the app store. Then you can listen anytime and anywhere. And, of course, please review and rate this show. I love to hear your comments; it helps to make the show and the blog even better and even more amazingly inspirational.

So, I look forward to seeing you next time at rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history.

Bye for now!