Fun & Easy Ways to Learn History: Visit Historic Sites!

Note: This blog post can also be found as a podcast called "6 Fun & Easy ways to learn history." You can find this podcast series at "Listen Up!" on this website or on Stitcher.com.

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

I’m happy that you have returned for Part IV of this great and groundbreaking blog and podcast series called “6 Fun & Easy ways to be inspired by history”! Today, we will explore the fourth way to learn and be inspired by history. However, I reveal this amazingly inspirational way to be inspired by history, I want to briefly review the past three ways.

In Part I, we found ways to be inspired by books about history. Yes, textbooks can be rather boring so we focused on “nonfiction novels” that are true stories, written as a novel (as a piece of fiction). I have read many nonfiction novels that bring history to life and are, without a doubt, truly inspirational. We also examined autobiographies (like Frederick Douglass’s narrative) and slave narratives. Remember that I actually added excerpts from each of these sources—and discovered that, while they can be heartbreaking, they also show how people have triumphed over terrible odds

In Part II, we examined movies about history. We discovered that many movies (following the format of the nonfiction novel) can be educational and inspirational by showing how good people can triumph over evil. Remember that I mentioned Men of Honor (with Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Amistad and Glory. And we mentioned other movies not based on true events but still based in history like The Color Purple. Very interesting in that these movies are based on books. And I absolutely don’t want to forget—or want you to forget—that documentaries can also be inspirational. The also tell stories and bring history to life.

In the previous blog, Part III, we showed that we don’t need to read books about history or watch movies about history though these are great ways to be inspired. But we can talk to people—or listen to people—who actually lived through historic events. Imagine talking to someone who actually worked as a freedom rider in the 1960s, helping to register people to vote in the American south or talking to a person who actually attended a segregated school. Remember we can—and should—talk to the elders and hear their stories. We can learn so much from them. But also remember that they will not be around forever—no one will---so take the time today to hear their stories and experiences.   Talk to your elders; you’ll be glad that you did.

This blog takes us to the 4th way to learn and be inspired by history.

Visit historical sites

If pictures speak 1,000 words, then actually visiting the place amounts to 10,000 words! There are so many great places to visit. Visiting a historic site is educational, inspirational and moving. Battlefields, cemeteries, museums, historic homes like the Frederick Douglass (I discussed it in a previous podcast), historic churches, monuments, old towns to name just a few historic sites can each bring history to life. In a podcast (okay, I know it’s a shameless plug), I discussed Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia where John Brown and his provisional army launched one of the largest slave revolts in U.S. history. It is an incredible place—fully restored—where this historic raid actually occurred. You can actually walk through a real and restored 19th century Antebellum southern town, bake bread in real beehive ovens and visit the Storer’s College where newly-freed slaves were educated.

I once visited the slave quarters at Mount Vernon (George Washington’s plantation home). I will never forget this experience because I was actually able to see how the enslaved population lived and learn about their life on the plantation of the first American president. As much I had read about slavery and slave life, I could not have imagined how slaves actually lived or imagined the rooms, the floors and the feeling in the room.

I have also visited the haunting and heartbreaking concentration camps in Poland and Germany, the stormy beaches and high cliffs at Normandy, the small village of Pompeii that still sits in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, which decimated the city almost 2,000 years ago. Yes, the bodies are still there, frozen in time, some in sleeping positions like people have slept every night since that fateful eruption. Closer to home, I remember visiting the restored old town of Sacramento which brought the old west to life. Visiting these historical sites changed and educated me about the reality of these places, events, and situations. Visiting cemeteries is a grounding step into history and can show that history is lived and made by real people.

Returning to David McCullough who presented the question: Is life not infinitely more enjoyable when you can stand in a great historic place and walk on historic ground and know something of what happened there and in whose footsteps you walk? My answer: Not only is life infinitely more enjoyable, it is also more amazingly inspirational!

Okay, I know that many people are rolling their eyes (I get that a lot!) and saying that they don’t want to go somewhere educational. They don’t want to visit some place to learn about history. Many people—both young and old—would say, “That’s boring!” You might just want to go to a nice beach and relax in the sun or go hiking in the mountains or sip Manhattans in Manhattan. Nothing wrong with that.

That kind of vacation can also be inspirational. But I do want to urge you to take a morning, afternoon or even just an hour and step into history. The experience will stay with you for the rest of your life. You will be a different person. Your children will see the world in a different way. Your world will be different. Dare I say that it will be better?

Now for my David McCullough quote: We began in Part I of this podcast series by quoting Dr. McCullough who said, “No harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to read.” Very wise words.

In Part II, we changed his quote to say that no harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to watch.

We continued in Part III by continuing to change his quote to say that no harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to discuss.

Today, we’re going even further to say that no harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to visit and revisit.

Where do you want to visit? There is much to see! So much to learn! And so much inspiration!

That’s all for Part IV of this blog and podcast series on “Fun & Easy ways to learn history.” Visiting historical sites is an amazingly educational and inspirational way to learn history. And I hope that you do visit great historic sites and see for yourself how amazing history can be. And, as David McCullough, described how infinitely more enjoyable life can be.

We now have four different ways to learn history. But we’re not finished yet. We are going to discuss two more fun and easy ways left.

Still no sneak peeks! I hope that you will read the next blog in this great and grounding series at rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history.