• Why Learn History (When It's Already on Your Phone)

  • By: Sam Wineburg
  • Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain
  • Length: 6 hrs and 27 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (20 ratings)

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Why Learn History (When It's Already on Your Phone)

By: Sam Wineburg
Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain
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Publisher's Summary

Let's start with two truths about our era: We are surrounded by more readily available information than ever before. And a huge percentage of it is inaccurate. Some of the bad info is well-meaning but ignorant. Some of it is deliberately deceptive. All of it is pernicious.

With the internet always at our fingertips, what's a teacher of history to do? Sam Wineburg has answers, beginning with this: If we want to educate citizens who can sift through the mass of information around them and separate fact from fake, we have to explicitly work to give them the necessary critical thinking tools. 

Historical thinking, Wineburg shows us in Why Learn History (When It's Already on Your Phone), has nothing to do with test prep-style ability to memorize facts. Instead, it's an orientation to the world that we can cultivate, one that encourages reasoned skepticism, discourages haste, and counters our tendency to confirm our biases. 

Wineburg draws on surprising discoveries from an array of research and experiments - including surveys of students, recent attempts to update history curricula, and analyses of how historians, students, and even fact checkers approach online sources-to paint a picture of a dangerously mine-filled landscape, but one that, with care, attention, and awareness, we can all learn to navigate.

©2018 The University of Chicago (P)2020 Tantor

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I finished this book...

and I don't think the titular question “Why Study History?” is answered by the book as a whole. I think many more readers may be interested in the book if they skip some of the chapters. As a review, I try to explain what makes each chapter interesting, so different readers can decide what they want to spend time on. As a general review, I think parts of this book are worth everyone's time, so spend a credit on it!

THREE CHAPTERS are mostly of interest to those who are directly involved in education, and focus on the question “How should history be taught in schools?” These chapters are Crazy for History, Obituary for a Billion Dollars, and Changing History… One Classroom at a Time. Of the three, “Crazy for History” serves as an excellent introduction to what it means to study history, and serves as a touchstone for our attitudes toward history and what it means to know it. “Changing History” is about a fascinating curriculum change that took place in many schools, providing a way to more authentically participate in history study. "Obituary" felt long to me, but may interest someone more attuned to politics and government spending.

The other chapters relate back to education, but don’t require a direct interest or involvement in educating youth.

Committing Zinns is a fascinating read that, besides telling an interesting story, also asks the reader to distinguish between revising history and thinking historically. Probably my favorite chapter!

In “Turning Bloom’s Taxonomy on Its Head”, the author reflects on how knowledge is built by historians, and how we should think about historical learning in schools. Probably could be skipped, as even educators will find the ideas present in other chapters of the book.

“What Did George Think?” tackles a question of historical interpretation that illustrates well a rift in how people think about the past.

“Why Google Can’t Save Us” and “Famous Americans” are both really interesting presentations, in part because they don’t focus on academic history study, but on what the common person knows about American history, and what they can do to think more critically. The Afterward builds especially on the ideas presented in these two chapters.