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Nonfiction Matters
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We Interrupt This Blog

Latest From the World Of Changing History

Folks, I have a blog slated to appear on Monday the 24th, but I had to post this first. Last night a scholar told me about an article he had read. Through the miracle of the net I found it, waiting for me, and I am all abuzz. This is such a perfect example of what I have been talking about in the new history, I had to tell you all right away.

Remember my post of the other day, about John Quincy Adams and the Indian connection to the Monroe Doctrine? Well the article I just read is about how Rammohan Roy — one of the most important leaders of the Hindu Reform Movement in India — was closely following exactly the same events as Adams — the independence struggles in Greece, in South America, in Ireland. And, I happen to know the leaders of those very reform movements in Ireland, in Germany, were also speaking out against slavery in America. So think of it — as every school trudges along to the Monroe Doctrine, they have the chance to speak about the entire world in ferment — from the Ganges, to Athens, to Dublin, to Caracas, to Berlin, to London and Paris and Washington.
And the alert class could go even further. Lord Byron, after all, was killed fighting in Greece. Any high school class could go from the MD to Greece to Byron’s, well, Byronic life and poetry. That would lead directly to his daughter Ada, who, with Charles Babbage, was building a Difference Engine. That is, a steam-powered computer. I am not making this up (and the novel The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling imagines a world in which their machine was completed). So in easy steps we go from the MD, to a world in ferment, to Byron, to an alternate history in which computers were puffing along a century before Microsoft. 

These links keep me awake at night — they are just so exciting to contemplate — and that is what I hope to pass along to young people. How about a display in a library that surrounds standard books on the MD with others on Bolivar, on Ireland, on abolitionism, on India, on Greece, on Byron, and on Ada, Charles, and their computer? See how quickly someone can fill in the blanks, figure out how they are linked.

And now back to my regularly scheduled blog.


  1. It’s interesting, because the way we tend to discuss things in our lives (our daily living history, if you will) is vastly different from the way we read about them and study them. History is presented as a linear progression of facts and details, cause and effect, but as our personal interests meander and we take sideways leaps, move backward and forward. When we look at the types of non-fiction that boys read (fact and trivia books, way-things-work, Eyewitness topics), and we see that they don’t always read front-to-back, perhaps the most radical thing we can offer with regard to teaching/reading history is to go non-linear. That library display you mention would allow the eye of the viewer settle in on the thing that most interested them and allow for reading events in both directions from there.