For the fantasy world I want to build so I can set a bunch of loosely related stories there, I’ve been reading a lot of history. I’ve always been a big history buff. I read history for fun and most of my electives in college were history courses. And yet I’m still learning new things. There are aspects of history that I’m only just now starting to understand.
I know it’s a broad topic, but in general, I think the way history is taught in American (or possibly just Texan) schools is woefully inadequate. All my junior high and high school history teachers were coaches. That meant they taught history by telling us to read the chapter in the textbook and answer the questions at the end of the chapter while they sat at their desks and read the sports sections of all the newspapers the library got. Occasionally, they’d show a film. Even so, they never seemed to get all the way through the textbook. In eighth grade, American history, part one, ended just before the Civil War, even though the textbook covered the Civil War (though I guess we were lucky there because some schools in the south never cover much other than the Civil War). Then in 11th grade, it picked up after Reconstruction but barely got beyond WWII. World History was even worse. I got so frustrated in that class that I took over and started teaching it in a vain attempt to make it even slightly interesting.
If all you knew of history was what you learned in school in the schools I went to, you’d be utterly ignorant, which explains a lot about our nation today. Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it, and all that.
I picked up more in college, but those were deep dives into particular topics, and I was focusing on modern European history because at the time my goal was to be a foreign correspondent.
I didn’t get a really good understanding of the American Revolution and the issues relating to it until I started researching the Rebels books. In my recent reading, I finally get what was going on with the Thirty Years War, in spite of growing up with ruins from it all around me. I’m starting to have the big picture of world history click into place, which makes some current events make more sense.
The problem with the way they tend to teach history (at least, in my experience) is that they focus on names and dates, when really it’s about stories. Some of this stuff, you couldn’t put it in a fantasy novel because it would be considered too outrageous to be believed.
I kind of love that it now counts as “work” to read lots of books about history. I seem to be working my way through the history section of my local library branch.