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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Elizabeth II

Exactly Why History Is Changing So Fast

I have been effusing about The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh. In her Introduction, Linda Colley mentions something that I should have been stressing — and which makes the connection between the new history and young people all the more evident. She explains that her ability to piece together Elizabeth’s story "has been rendered possible also by the explosion in global communications that is occuring now, in our own lifetimes. The coming of the worldwiede web means that historians (and anyone else) can investigate manuscript and library catalogues, online documents and genealogical websites from different parts of the world." You all know this, and surely make use of these resources. But I can testify that it is the web and all these links that makes it possible for us to connect US History and World History — to stitch together the past.

Again, if you have students doing a unit on any standard topic, with just a few clicks they can examine that same moment in a new way — and both you and they will be astonished by what you can find. The other day I was reading about the background of the Monroe Doctrince — which is, I guarantee you, in every single scope and sequence in this this country. The fact that John Quincy Adams was responsible for some of the key ideas is not news. Indeed everyone mentions a speech he gave on July 4, 1821 as a key point in his development. I found many versions of the speech online, though none was complete. And I also saw an interesting note in several sources — apparently Adams not only warned Europeans off from the Americas, but predicted that India would soon be free of England. I could not find that anywhere. Whas is it a mistake, or legend? But then, searching online, I found his collected letters. In a letter of the following January he explained his aims in the famous talk — including that very prediction about England and India. 

Your students can follow similar trails — the whole world is open to them. And that is why this moment is thrilling not only because of the new insights it is yielding, but because it is based on a kind of research young people are able to do. They can join in this process of gaining new knowledge. All they need are questions, your guidance, and access to the internet. What could be more exciting?