Print This Post

Manuel, others speak about studying history

Posted on 11.06.2013

Faculty, current students, alumni and University of Indianapolis President Robert Manuel sought to answer the question “Why Does History Matter?” during an Oct. 21 lecture by that name. The lecture was a part of the history department’s outreach series started by Assistant Professor of  History and Political Science James Williams.


University of Indianapolis President Robert Manuel discusses how he first became interested in history and then went on to major in the subject during the “Why Does History Matter?” lecture on Oct. 21.

At the beginning of the lecture, Williams discussed how the subject of history is viewed in popular culture. He even read a passage from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” that talked about the history class required at Hogwarts. According to Williams, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s description of the class plays into the modern idea of history—dull teachers and boring stories. Williams, however, said that he sees it differently.
“Harry Potter’s entire journey is governed by the past. It’s governed by the people, and the events and the dates that come before his life. He spends the entire series chasing this past, seeking to understand it, what it means to his life and what it means to his present,” he said.
Williams then invited Matthew Billings, an alumnus of the University of Indianapolis Master of Arts in History program and adjunct professor. Billings is currently pursuing his doctorate from Northern Illinois University.  Billings told the audience that every one of them is a historian,  although he conceded that history is not always on most people’s minds.
“At our best, we might think of  history as something we should care about, but don’t,” Billings said. “At our worst, we don’t think about it much at all.”
Billings said that he often asks people outside of the history profession why history matters. According to him, the most common response is to apply the lessons of the past to the problems of the present.
Billings talked about Peyton Manning’s penchant for studying the tapes of the past season’s games to learn from his mistakes. Reviewing the past reminded him of what his team was doing right and what needed to be improved.
“History courses provide the perfect forum for putting critical thinking to use. History classes do more than teach names and dates. They challenge students to ask questions. History courses also teach students how to craft an argument by weighing evidence with a clear strong thesis,” Billings said.
According to senior history major Lacey Herington, history matters for a thousand reasons, but to her it matters  on a personal level.
Although Herington currently holds two internships and wants to pursue a master’s degree in public history and library science, she said that she was diagnosed with a learning disability at a young age. She said her parents gave her children’s books about history, which set her on the road to becoming a historian.
Herington said that through her work at the Indiana Historical Society, she gets to help those who come searching for answers.
“I cannot explain how happy I get when I find a relative or a document that has personal meaning to a visitor to the Historical Society,” she said.
After Herington, Manuel, who majored in history at Allegheny College in Meadville, Penn., took to the stage to give his answer. After asking students why they came to the lecture, and receiving several answers, he told the story of why history matters to him.
“It started for me in fourth grade when we studied the Civil War. I hated history … and everything that required me to write,” Manuel said.
Manuel was assigned to read Theodore Roscoe’s “Web of Conspiracy: The Complete Story of the Men Who Murdered Abraham Lincoln.”
“He [Roscoe] treated it much more like a play—interaction between people who had long since been dead but, for me, were very alive,” Manuel said. “For me, history became a tool to understand people’s actions. I could understand history as a way to formulate strategy.”
Alumna Julie Schneider-Doty teaches those strategies to the seventh-grade social studies classes at Northside Middle School in Columbus, Ind. She began her presentation with a video from the Miniature Earth Project. Schneider-Doty discussed why the geopolitical landscape of the world is the way it is.
“I just encourage you to make sure you’re being culturally aware. That is a very important reason to study history,” she said.
Nathaniel Ridgway, a senior with an emphasis in American history, spoke next, and he also focused on cultural awareness.
“I really enjoy a kind of history called history and memory. The perspectives of memory can change wildly over time,” he said.
Beginning by comparing two pictures taken immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Ridgway expanded on his topic.
He used Marshall “Major” Taylor, an Indianapolis native and the first professional black athlete, as an example of different perspectives on the same story. In Taylor’s autobiography, readers find that he was entered as a cruel joke in the race that made him famous.
However, a children’s book portrays Taylor as struggling with confidence, unsure of his skills.
“Memory and history are important, because what we can understand from the past will change how we interact for the future,” Ridgway said.
The final presentation was delivered by Director of the Institute for Civic Leadership and the Mayoral Archives and Associate Professor of  History and Political Science Ted Frantz. He said that the title of the lecture made him consider his personal history. On that level, he said, history matters because life lacks meaning without it.
“[History] connects the generations with a common bond,” Frantz said. “It enables us to imagine ourselves in different times and places. It helps us to ask what we think are profound questions.”
The history series will continue later this month with a discussion on the Election of 1860.
Freshman history major Austin Wilhelm attended the lecture. He said that history is important to him for personal reasons, so he found the lecture interesting.
“My great grandpa was a World War II veteran, and he passed away when I was young. So I started to read about what he went through. He drew me into history,” Wilhelm said. “In high school, I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, so I decided that I was honoring him by studying history.”


RSS Feed  Follow Us on Twitter  Facebook Profile