Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Historian in the house

I'm very excited about something, and let me tell you what.

It's said that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are bound to be bitten in the arse by the lessons they failed to learn.  As science fiction writer John Wood Campbell used to say, "It's not so much that History repeats herself, it's that sometimes she screams 'Won't you ever listen to what I'm trying to tell you?' and lets fly with a club."

Now, like many of you I certainly failed to learn from the history that was delivered at school.  There wasn't much of it, and what there was was mostly nonsense delivered poorly.  Historian Scott Powell wants to change that: arguing that philosophy killed history (read his four-part series on that argument: Part one, two, three and four), he's put together an online history course for adults that differs markedly from any history course you've yet encountered because it recognises how we actually acquire and use knowledge -- and I'm going to 'attend' the next one, on 'The Islamic Entanglement,' right from the comfort of my own house.  That's why I'm excited.  Explains Scott,

The Islamist Entanglement is part of [an online] history program I call "A First History for Adults." I developed this program because I realized there were many adults out there who want to learn history but have no place to start. Time and time again I've seen adult students who are committed to learning about the past ask historians in frustration, "Where can I get started?" It's one thing to enjoy a book or lecture by a great historian; it's another thing to actually gain knowledge for yourself. It doesn't just happen by being exposed to someone else's expertise...

My aim is to create a presentation of history that specifically builds upon the context of knowledge of the average educated adult, and allows you to create a real foundation of knowledge. I help students create a "skeleton" or framework upon which more elaborate research and abstract thinking can be profitably pursued. Probably the most important thing that I do is eradicate as many non-essential facts as possible, and then show how the really pivotal ones can be grouped into useful historical abstractions, called "periods." It's not a magic serum, but it is the most productive way to build general historical knowledge.

Gus Van Horn sayss "History as taught by Mr. Powell is not just fascinating. It is powerful stuff!" And Diana Hsieh reckons learning history with Scott Powel is "like nothing I've ever experienced before, either in school, with my history reading, or from Objectivists."

I'm finally learning -- and really learning, not just hearing in one ear and out the other -- and integrated, essentialized history. Now, when I read more detailed accounts of some era or event, I'll not just be able to place that new material in a clear context, but I'll also be able to use his methods to essentialize, integrate, and retain that new knowledge. So I cannot recommend his "First History" course highly enough.

Learn more about Scott's history project at his website or his blog, or by reading Ed Cline's interview with him about the upcoming course.  And you can find out more about the course on Islamist Entanglement and sign up for it here and here

Oh, and if you want to prepare for the course, here's the latest posts on Scott's Middle East Milestones series on some of the key developments that have shaped the region.

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