What I Learned from High School History

Hi, SEers. You’re with Mae today, and I’m spinning the clock back to highlight education during my teen years.

High school history taught me numerous events, but it also taught me something about myself. When I was in school, I sorta/maybe/kinda liked history class, but there was something missing. It was only later, as an adult, I’d discover what that something was.

People.

History taught me about events. The American Revolution, the Civil War, the U.S. expansion west, the Plains-Indian War, etc. I found all of that fascinating to a degree, but it lacked the human element. I’m not sure what made me pick up my first nonfiction title as an adult. The book was called The Patriots, written about the men behind the American Revolution. Men who became the founding fathers of the United States.

Suddenly I was reading about the people behind the incident, rather than the event itself. Once I started down that road, history unfolded in an entirely new way. I began devouring books on the men and women of historical times.

You could say it’s the difference between detail—dates, places, names—and emotion. As a writer, I could take that a step further and compare it to the difference between plot-driven (event) and character-driven (people) fiction.

Putting all of that into perspective, it doesn’t surprise me I prefer character-driven as both a reader and a writer.

My love of history has led me to numerous places within the U.S. to walk battlefields, visit old cemeteries and churches, hunt down historic markers. I still recall the goose bumps I had standing on the bridge between Lexington and Concord. I wasn’t thinking of the conflict that grew from “the shot heard round the world.” I was thinking of the men on either side of that bridge and the emotions running through their heads. Of the wives, children, parents, and family waiting for them at home.

DIGITAL CAMERA

Concord Old North Bridge, Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain

The holiday for U.S. Independence has passed, but I thought this an appropriate post to share given how high school history and the American Revolution opened my eyes to something about myself. Something I’ve taken away as an author,  understanding why I am drawn to character-driven stories.

Do you read non-fiction? Are you able to lose yourself in the lives of people who have come before, riveted by the details of the challenges they faced? Several years ago, I started notes for a novel about Elizabeth Bacon Custer. I doubt I will ever write that book, but I was fascinated enough by Libbie to consider giving it a try.

What about you? Have you ever considered writing a novelization of a historic figure’s life? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Ready, set, go!

 

 

Bio box for author, Mae Clair

88 thoughts on “What I Learned from High School History

  1. Keep on going! Although I received my education prior to all these propaganda camps ruining education, like my peers, I read outside the curriculums, researched, and allowed my interests to lead the way, which is ongoing. Education is never consigned to buildings. We all can be self-educated, and Abraham Lincoln was, and many are discovering. If one is honestly seeking, they will filter through the propaganda, rhetoric, and pc lies, and slowly appreciate history, more so, our own amazing past. They will discover why America became.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, dolphinwrite! Thank you for the reminder about Abraham Lincoln. We can all take a lesson for how he educated himself. I hope more and more people realize that a love of history isn’t restricted by walls or curriculum that others set for us. The trick is to look beyond that and explore for ourselves.

      I am so glad you enjoyed the post and stopped by tho share your thoughts. Knowing where we came from and why is so important to all!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love history, Mae, but I understand exactly what you mean by the dryness of history if it is just presented as facts. It needs people and their lives and daily doings to bring it to life. This is the reason I like to write about history. To try to bring history to people in an interesting and meaningful way. I wrote about the Anglo Boer War because I feel this story needs to be shared with people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know you have a true passion for history, Robbie. The dedication and research you put into your novels is extraordinary. I agree that it’s all about presenting it in a manner that makes someone connect with the people of the past–their challenges, victories, hardships, and emotions. When that is accomplished, history is kept alive and becomes so much more than names, places, and dates. I’m glad you feel that strong of a connection to share history with others.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I always loved the anecdotes more than the standard facts and figures, and I am pleased these days a lot of historians and writers are given a voice to the normal people who usually didn’t get to figure in History with a capital letter. I hope you get to write that book. I’d be interested for sure, Mae.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Olga. Thanks for the confidence on the book. That’s much appreciated 🙂

      I also like that writers and historians are giving voice to people we might not have known about otherwise, and also making us see the ones who have towered over history in a new light. If I could go back and do it all over again, I’d approach history from a different angle as a child. At least I discovered the angle as an adult!

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting on the post!

      Like

  4. Pingback: #ReblogAlert – This Week on Story Empire | The Write Stuff

  5. Sorry I’m late, Mae, but it wasn’t because of a lack of interest. I love this post, and you’ve just shared something I’ve always believed. I truly hated history class! (And I was a straight A student who loved school.) But history back in my day was all about memorizing long lists of DATES and PLACE NAMES. It was never, ever focused on the people. Consequently, I found it boring beyond belief. Reading non-fiction that focuses on the lives of the people involved is very, very different. Even historical fiction that makes the entire story come to life with dialogue and emotions is wonderful. I’ve read a ton of books along this line over the years, and came to realize I did love history. Just not the kind that focuses on DATES, thankyouverymuch. 😀 Great post! Sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Marcia. Sounds like we are in complete agreement. Isn’t it amazing that some brain trust way-back-when thought the best way to teach history was to make students memorize boring dates and place names? I’m so glad there are wonderful non-fiction accounts available of many of the people who helped shape history. Like you, I also love a good fictionalized account that focuses on the life of a historical person. My bookshelf is filled with that type of fiction in addition to nonfiction and (of course) thriller and suspense novels. (Did someone say Pendergast? Dresden?) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Me! Me! I said those things!! 😀 Many times. Over and over. Pendergast. Dresden. See? Oh, how I’m dying for the next book in each of those series, too. And yet, how can I ask them to write faster, knowing (as I now do) just how hard that is to accomplish! 😆

        Like

  6. Pingback: Story Empire Weekly Round Up @StoryEmpire @MaeClair1 @JanSikes3 #WritingCommunity – Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  7. This is a wonderful post, Mae. High school history is a tough course. So much to cover and not enough time to include the interesting bits. I enjoy reading about history now, I might enjoy a book about Elisabeth Custer – that’s a neat idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Dan. History teachers did have it rough trying to squeeze so much in, plus being forced to stick with a curriculum focused on dates and place names. It’s a shame there wasn’t room for more. By the time I was a senior in high school I had several study halls every day. It would have been nice to have filled 1-2 with elective history classes.
      Like you, I enjoy reading about history now. I doubt I will ever get around to writing that book about Libbie Custer, but it’s nice to know there is interest. Thank you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s awesome, Dan. I have a friend who spent decades researching, and then writing books about Alexander Hamilton and also Mozart’s wife. It made me see not only them, but all those they came in contact with differently than ever before.

        Like

  8. Thank you, Mae, for sharing your thoughts regarding history. What I remember about high school history is that it was primarily about events with almost nothing said about females. I remember my high school teacher saying that women had not contributed much to history, which infuriated me. After I became an adult, a new door opened to me about the roles women played in history including as warrior queens, rulers, Greek philosophers, and mathematicians. It was not until I took a college history class did I learn how important it was for Greek and Roman commanders to get a good omen before going into battle, demonstrating how important religion was on the culture. What makes history so interesting is that events and the nature of people repeat time and time again. For example, the corruption and debauchery in ancient Rome are not so different from today. I love reading anything with a historical spin–fiction, non-fiction, and archaeological finds.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Linnea. Ugh, to your memory of history not encompassing women. Looking back on it, I admit the role of women was few and far between, Hmmm….I wonder if that’s why I focused on Libbie Bacon Custer when I was reading about the American Civil War and the Plains-Indian War. Such a narrow viewpoint would never be tolerated today.

      World history is mostly out of my realm, so hearing about Greek and Roman commanders needing a good omen before going into battle is news to me—and also fascinating. Although I focus mostly on American history, I find this interesting too. I consider myself a sponge, always looking to soak up new information about the past. I completely agree about the Rome of old not being so different from out world today. I have, in fact, often thought that myself.

      Thanks so much for visiting to share your thoughts!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Mae–The history of women in American history is also fascinating. It’s interesting that you focused on Libbie Custer during the Civil War and Plains-Indian war. This was a fascinating time period where women had a big role in settling the West. It’s been a pleasure to learn more about you and your interests.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks so much, Linnea. A pleasure chatting with you as well.
        It probably comes as no surprise, that I also loved the settling of the American West. You have me wanting to delve into my nonfiction books again 🙂

        Like

  9. I have always hated history, probably because I had teachers who made me memorize names and dates. I tend not to read biographies. I like losing myself in fantasy, but I have read a memoir or two that told more like a story than a documentary, and I enjoyed those. Great post, Mae! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it makes all the difference when a historical account or biography reads more like a novel than a textbook. I was fortunate in that the first non-action book I read (The Patriots) read like a novel and hooked me immediately. Once I waded into that realm, I had no problem making the transition to more textbook like accounts (Crazy Horse and Custer is another favorite read which is much drier). Once history comes alive it sucks you in through so many different avenues.

      When you have teachers who make a subject drab and uninteresting, I do think that sets the bar and stays with you for life. I’m glad you have at least been able to enjoy a few memoirs, Yvette. And there’s nothing wrong with fantasy. It’s a great escape!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I did a joint hons degree in English and History – loved the social history, loathed the economic! For me, it’s always about the ‘little’ person – the soldier in the trenches, the peasant working the fields in the winter. I’ve also read lots of autobiographies and biographies. I read a book about Jackie Kennedy that said she insisted on having her stockings ironed; that was when I decided to shut my iron away and just drip dry…
    The other point here is the understanding of the historical situation from the human point of view. I’ve read excellent historical fiction but sometimes an author is so keen to share what they’ve learned that it’s just like listening to that boring history teacher. Great post, Mae!

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a cool joint degree! Two of my favorite subjects (I was also a fan of science). Like you, I was always focused on the individual or the “little” person rising to the occasion. Interesting about Jackie Kennedy. One of the people I have read countless books about is RFK, whose life crosses with many of the other Kennedys.

      As for your other point, I do agree there is a fine line between an author “showing off” their knowledge of a subject/person and making it interesting/entertaining as opposed to lecturing.

      So glad you enjoyed today’s post and many thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This makes complete since to me. Even though I’ve never put it together quite like you have, Mae. There truly is a difference when you properly bring people into the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’ve always enjoyed getting my history through historical fiction and biographies, so writers have a huge influence on how I view the past. I am not so well read, so my own impressions are skewered by the visions of relatively few people. So do a good job in your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love historical fiction and biographies as well Geoff. I admit there are some subjects / people I know far more about from that type of reading than learning through education. Taking on writing historical fiction or non-fiction of any sort definitely requires a heightened level of commitment and need to be truthful of the past. I think that’s probably why I will never write that book about Elizabeth Bacon Custer—I could get something wrong!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I love history and had a history minor in college. Like you, I enjoy the people part. I have included some historical fiction in my last book and have some in the next. I was doing historical events in my Monday feature Top Ten Things Not to Do. I have put that feature on hold until I finish my next book since the research part took a lot of time. I do hope to return to it soon. An excellent post today, Mae.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved your inclusion of historical figures in Eternal Road, John, and look forward to meeting more in the sequel. You clearly have a love of history to have minored in it in college. And I know you put a ton of work into your Top Ten Things Not to Do blog post. I can understand why you’ve had to put a hold on the historical events until the book is finished.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed today’s post. With the Fourth of July holiday, it really got me thinking about historical events and how history has impacted my writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Fascinating, Mae. You’ve brought up memories I’ve buried and wanted to forget — high school history classes. I’d always do well in the course, but only because I memorized dates. I never learned anything. Like you, people are critically important to me. But now, I’d like to take a history class, and I would “people” the stories whether the teacher did or not. I’ve not written historical fiction, but I’ve come close. With my last books, I spent far more time researching than writing. I learned what I should have learned as a teenager or a college student or through life itself. My books forced me to see a world I did not know existed and changed me irreparably. If history could be taught through human stories, we’d all be better for it. Great post, Mae! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wasn’t it awful remembering all those dates, Gwen? I’ve learned so much more about historical events as an adult then I did when I was in school. Granted, teachers have it rough and are limited with time and material, but I do believe a shift of focus to individuals might breathe fresh air into stale textbook content.

      I know you spent a great deal of time researching The Culmination. It showed in the writing and made me realize I never would have been able to tackle a project of that scope. I think I’ll stick to the 1800s, LOL.

      It’s amazing to hear from so many writers saying how much they love history. I wonder if that goes with the territory?

      So glad you enjoyed today’s post!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I had the worst history teacher in high school. His voice was so monotone I had a heck of time trying to stay awake. Sadly, that experience pushed me away from history and nonfiction. Which might sound bizarre coming from someone who has written a historical nonfiction book. Never say never!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erm, yeah, Sue….I seem to recall you writing a certain nonfiction historical book called Pretty Evil New England 😉

      Sorry you had such an awful history teacher. It’s a tough subject and without someone to breathe life into it, I can see how it would be boring with a capital B. I was fortunate that I had decent teachers. I wouldn’t jump and down about them, but at least they kept my interest even if I did find the subject matter dry.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I loved history, especially when teachers taught the cause and effect and how one event linked to the next one, etc. I had a friend who taught history, and in his school, teachers of history and English and even math worked together to bring historical events to life for students. While he’d teach the important events, English teachers would assign biographies or novels about that time period, and one math teacher would do a lesson on the budgets and economics of that time period. I think would be fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! You had some awesome teachers, Judi! What a great idea to cross-teach in various subjects. I can see where that would build excitement for the students. Everything beginning to fit together like individual puzzle pieces creating a perfect snapshot in time. What a fabulous concept!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. My husband is a huge history buff. I find it interesting. There are so many things to be learned from the past. Like so many, I often wonder who/how/why. The people make it interesting. Would I ever write historical fiction? Probably not. I have woven some history into a story or two, but I wouldn’t want to do a disservice to what occurred in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that there are so many things to be learned from the past, and much of that brings a stronger appreciation to the present. I do recall you weaving history into your stories, Michele. As a author, I love doing that, and as a reader, I always find the various time periods interesting.

      I don’t think I’ll ever attempt a full-fledged historical novel, but I love writing dual time lines and creating whole chapters set in the past. I have gone so far as to write a short story murder mystery set solely in Medieval England, but I’ve yet to push anything as far as a novel. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to do that!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. You totally nailed this, Mae. The difference between “boring” history and “fascinating” history is the people themselves – what they thought, felt, endured… Like everyone else, I memorized names, dates, and places to pass my history tests, then that information immediately fell out of my brain as useless. But when you add emotion to it, it sticks. I’ve never had an urge to write about a historical character, but many have and they’ve been fascinating stories and movies. The story about Harriet Tubman is a great example. Thank you for sharing!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I did the same thing, Jan. All that memorizing, only to have it fade away as clutter in my brain once it got me through my subjects.

      Once I cracked open a book, however, where the author delved into the feelings and emotions of the person or people caught up in a historical event, it was like a light went off. Suddenly I was putting myself in their shoes. I’ve read many non-fiction accounts of various time periods in American history but the Revolutionary War era is still the one I find the most fascinating when I stop to think about the people who took part and lived through it.

      For writing, my go-to-era is the 1800s and turn of the 20th century. I also love reading about those time periods.

      So glad you enjoyed the post today!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Not sure high school history has changed much over the years. The times I’ve been in those classes, it does seem to focus on big events. Yet, I’ve seen tests that focus on big names connected to the events. Could be entirely up to the teacher too. Part of the issue is that we try to jam so many events into a single school year that you can only get a general overview with the occasional deep dive. It’s far too much in too little a time to make it more, but some teachers have managed to pull it off. Reports and projects help there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think projects are an excellent way to involve students in history. Being “hands on” makes a huge difference. And you’re right—there is so much to cram into a school year, it’s difficult to do more than touch on certain aspects. My history teachers did a decent job with the time and material they had, enough to make me appreciate history classes over others I was required to take. They must have made enough of an impression that I picked up my first nonfiction book when I did, and I am immensely thankful for that!

      Like

      • I remember doing a lot of projects in all of my subjects. Not sure if they’re as common. My son’s history teacher did a lot of research projects last year. They definitely help keep kids interested in the subject matter.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is so good to hear, Charles. I sometimes think it would be fun to have a “do-over” for certain subjects in school—now with an adult perspective. I’d certainly pay better attention, LOL!

        Like

  20. I love history, and I love research. But I’m terrified to write historical fiction, particularly about a real person. I’d be so sad to get it wrong. But I greatly admire the people who do it, and do it well.

    I’d love to read your take on historical figures.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. I love history, and always have. I see it repeating itself fairly regularly. I’ve written in historical eras, but not about real people. I even included some celebrity cameos in Panama, but they were fictionalized. It might not seem like it, but I do quite a bit of research for tiny references to historical events in my tales. I don’t see myself writing a factual, researched, historical tale.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I remember those celebrity cameos in Panama, Craig. Great to meet another history buff!
      I’m like you—I add a lot of historical elements to my novels but the idea of writing a full-blown historical is daunting for me. I’ve entertained it before (as noted above), but I’m not sure it will ever happen. If anything, I wouldn’t write about any specific person in detail but would do as you’ve done and add cameos.
      And research is so much fun!

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I’ve always loved history. I should say American and Texas history. World history did (and still) bores me to tears. I loved learning about the events and with my vivid imagination, put myself into those situations. Funny how I love character-driven fiction best, but as a student, I wasn’t that interested in the men and women behind the events. It’s different now that I’m older, and I used to read biographies. These days I read little or no non-fiction.

    As far as writing historical fiction. Maybe, but I’d be too afraid of getting something wrong. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • American history is my favorite, too, Joan. I’m not a huge fan of world history, but I easily get lost in the earlier time periods of this country. That is interesting how you loved history but were more focused on the events when you were younger, and now are more focused on the people responsible for them. That’s when my love of history really took flight. I don’t read as much nonfiction as I used to, but I normally still read several titles a year.

      I love writing about the 1800s. If I ever do tackle a full blown historical (which isn’t likely) that would be my time period of choice. For now, I’m happy weaving chapters of that time period into novels such as I did with Hode’s Hill. That series was so much fun to write, especially the historical time lines!

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Our history was all about road building, mostly. While interested in the mechanics, I was so bored with the dates, etc. Worse still, one history teacher taught us we’d never had a civil war in the UK!!! Ha! So, yeah, I’ve learnt more history since leaving school and had many erroneous beliefs corrected.

    Like you, I enjoy reading non-fiction and learning about the people affected by/driving events. I’m not sure I’m up to writing a book on a historical figure though.

    Great post, Mae. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Harmony, I don’t think I’ll ever tackle writing a book about a historical figure, although I seriously considered an attempt with Libby Bacon Custer.
      Sounds like you had some boring history classes while in school. I’m so glad you discovered the joy of history once you left, and that you enjoy reading non-fiction. I have so many nonfiction titles on my bookshelf that I love, many of them also excellent for research!

      Liked by 1 person

  24. I think this is the problem with history teaching. Sadly, it turns many people off the subject. It seems dry and dull. If it focussed more on the people, maybe it wouldn’t seem so boring.
    I’ve not written a fictionalised account of any real peoson’s life, but have written about a slave in Roman Britain, and a girl living at the time of the Danelaw in Britain. I hope I’ve been able to give a feeling of what it was like to live then. The lives of the ordinary people are as important as those of the famous ones. And by focussing on how people lived and their emotions, maybe we can prevent future horrors of war. War is dirty, messy and very frightening. What it is not is glorious and heroic, an idea many books and films, unintentionally, produce.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I agree with you that many people don’t love history because they find it boring–dates, places, events. By digging into the lives of the people who created those events, it opens a whole new avenue of connection. Bravo to you for tackling time periods in your fiction. I’ve done the same with several of my books, writing about ordinary people in the 1700s and 1800s, and working hard to bring those time periods to life. I also agree with what you said about war.
      My father was a WWII veteran but never spoke about those times. That said more to me than words could.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi, Mae Clair. Your comment about your father reminded me of an uncle who was a German prisoner of war during WW2. He never spoke of it, either. I know he was force-marched across, I think, Poland, but I’m not sure of that. I didn’t get it from him , but my aunts and grandmother, so no details. It must have been a terrible time for all involved.

        Liked by 1 person

      • What a dreadful experience for your uncle! Surely there was nothing worse than being a POW. I’m thankful he survived.

        I do believe that most vets of that era didn’t talk about what they saw or experienced. When I was a child, our neighborhood across the street had been one of the men in the Bataan Death March. I didn’t learn that about him until I was older. But again, he never spoke about it. As you said–a terrible time.

        Liked by 1 person

  25. Great post, Mae! I’ll admit, growing up I was never a big fan of history in the classroom. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, so visiting historical landmarks and monuments captured my attention more than a textbook. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve met many bloggers who’ve taught me a lot about history. They make it more interesting than teachers from my past. I’ve never considered writing a non-fiction history story, but I do enjoy reading such books. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Jill. What a great area to grow up in, with so many historical landmarks near by. I live fairly close to Gettysburg, but never really appreciated what it signified until becoming interested in history as an adult. It’s amazing how perspective can change. And I agree there are many great blog posts out there far more interesting than what we learned about history as kids. I don’t think I’d ever tackle a non-fiction history story but I would love to brave enough to write a fictional account of a historical figure’s life. Maybe one of these days I’ll take another look at my notes about Libbie Bacon Custer. In the meantime, I’m content with weaving history into my novels. I positively love doing that!

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Great post, Mae 🙂 I loved history as well, but not until I had a teacher in Jr. High School who brought it life. I was bored of memorizing dates and battles. Like you said he brought the people into it. I begin to imagine how it would have been to be there and live through it. I wanted to get inside their heads like a good book will do. I’ve never considered doing a non-fiction historical story, but I loved doing a historical fiction story 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Denise, I love reading non-fiction history, but I’d never tackle writing a book. I should have been clearer about that in my blog post. I love the idea of writing a fictional account of someone’s life. I’ve read so many great books like that, and tend to go back and forth between fiction and non-fiction on the people and events that resonate with me. It sounds like you had a wonderful teacher in junior high. What a difference that makes in bringing a subject alive. It’s great that you enjoy weaving history into fiction. I love books that do that, and reference earlier times!

      Liked by 1 person

We'd love to know what you think. Comment below.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s