A Bookish Blog Inspired by History

A Bookish Blog Inspired by History

Though the scope of Picking Books has since expanded, it’s original purpose was to inspire you to learn more about history through books.

How I Got Interested in History

I'm no history buff or literary scholar, only a writer who realized that I learned more about history from books and the arts (including popular culture) than I did by going to school.

How did I learn about Hooverville? The 1982 film version of the musical Annie. Vlad the Impaler? The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. The French Revolution? The musical production of Les Misérables. Of course, I didn't learn everything about history from movies, books, and musicals, but the movies, books, and musicals got me interested enough to find more information. 

Why Study History

I’m not the only person who learned at least a little bit about history this way. And I’m not the only person who believes that studying history is important, but many people still wonder why we should study history at all. 

I continue to study history because it helps me make sense of the world and become more media literate. I also find history interesting and often inspiring. But if that’s not enough for you, and it shouldn’t be, consider this:

Knowledge is power. As historian Diane Ravitch writes in her 1985 article, “Decline and Fall of Teaching History,” published in The New York Times Magazine, “An understanding of history does not lead everyone to the same conclusions, but it does equip people with the knowledge to reach independent judgements on current issues. Without historical perspective, voters are more likely to be swayed by emotional appeals, by stirring commercials, or by little more than a candidate’s good looks or charisma.”[1]

Additionally, We are a global society, and there is no going back. We are all different, but as a global society our history is shared, every event that happened on this earth is a piece of the road that leads to right now. History gives us the context to understand other people and cultures. Its stories allow us to view history and the rest of the world from a perspective different from our own. Further, UCLA's National Standards for History Basic Edition, 1996 points out, “Historical memory is the key to self-identity, to seeing one’s place in the stream of time, and one’s connectedness with all of humankind. We are part of an ancient chain, and the long hand of the past is upon us—for good and for ill—just as our hands will rest on our descendants for years to come.”[2]

Why I Write Book Reviews

When I came up with the idea for Picking Books, I was not excited by the prospect of blogging. Blogs flood the internet, and I wasn’t keen on adding to the overflow. But the more I sat with the idea the more I noticed historical references in every form of entertainment I consumed. I noticed how much more I enjoy books and televisions shows because I know history. I also remembered how boring and repetitive history classes were. That’s why I turned to books and entertainment in the first place: they tell stories, and stories make history exciting.

Books and the arts give us a lens through which to perceive history. By using books and the arts as a starting point for learning about history we can also reap the benefits of interdisciplinary learning including improved critical thinking skills.[3] Reading literary fiction may also make us more empathetic.[4]

More important, I started Picking Books to encourage other people to read, learn about history, and appreciate and appropriately consume uncensored media and entertainment. Initially, I wanted to review any books, TV shows, movies, and theater performances that included bits of history, but my time is limited and I’ve already given my heart to books. Many people can’t afford books and don’t have access to well-stocked libraries. People who live in countries with authoritarian governments also have restricted access to books due to censorship.[5] The opportunity to enjoy books is a privilege that we easily forget to appreciate. I still review the TV shows, movies, and theater performances that touch on history… but only if they’re based on a book.

My initial mission was to promote appreciation of our shared global history through reviews and articles that expound the bits of history that pop up in great books. I’ve since expanded my mission to include other disciplines including sociology and cultural studies. I realize that many of the movies, television shows, plays, musicals, and books I discuss on this blog are going to be fiction or at least dramatizations, but that doesn’t take away their value as learning tools. It’s our responsibility as viewers and readers to use our critical thinking skills, our libraries, and the internet to find out what is true.

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