My self-directed learning
The beginning of the course was a strong push into individual research. One of my largest problems was a busy work schedule, which kept me from having time to do heavy reading. This drove me to use the resources around me. One of these was a trip to the MOA, which gave me an opportunity to view are in a different way than I normally would: Instead of viewing the piece as an isolated event, I could see the emotions, fears, and hopes of the time period. In addition, I took up watching/listening to documentaries, since they provided an interesting resource that could easily be explored while engaged in other works or chores. A documentary on Prohibition, for example, changed not only how I thought of the time leading up to the 20s, but also about legalizing morality today.
My evolving project
My project was originally based around statistics, and in a way it still is. However, my problem was that my data could support two conclusions: either that we need to change information output or we need to educate those with access to data. A comment made by Katherine Baird on an early post indicted that I needed to flesh this issue out more clearly. Jordan's thesis, which touched on a similar issue, helped me point my views toward the latter conclusion.
I also got to witness, to my great pleasure, some of my ideas helping shape the posts of others. On one of Michael's early drafts, I mentioned an example that I thought may lend a nice light to his project, and also made some suggestions on how to present this information. to my delight, both appeared in the final version of his project. An environment of peer review is a powerful editing tool.
Communication and History
Communication is more than just a facet of history. It is also the lens through which history is viewed. "History is written by the winners" is a common saying, but it is also rewritten by the current top dogs. I had a friend who took a class in history while he lived in the United Kingdom. When they got to the time of the Revolutionary War, he was expecting the same grand treatment we give it. Instead the teacher said "well, that's when we lost the colonies" and then he moved on.
99.99% of history will lay forgotten one day. Although we may know the names of a few kings and laws, it's much harder to capture the feeling of an era. While it's easy to remember the the principles of learning that the Greeks created, it's even easier to forget the thousands of principals who oversaw such learning. Any high schooler can remember Hitler's name, although they probably cannot name the ruler of any country that he conquered.
The effects of such a limited view are startling. The purpose of history is to learn the patterns, and then apply them. However, our current view is like a list of all hills on earth that only includes Mounts Everest and Fiji. The wide canvas of history contains many strokes, but each is drawn in a thick red crayon. the finer details do not survive, so we build judgments based on an incomplete data set. This makes our "informed" decisions much more radical. It gives us presidential candidates who are straight out of a comic book.
Although history is powerful, what is said--and what is not-- is much more so. History's most human stories remain untold because mankind is more interested with superlatives than with averages.