As these words of the poet T.S. Eliot remind us, history is not just something “out there.” We know the past only through interpretations. But not all interpretations are equal. Over centuries, historical scholarship has evolved rules of evidence, judgment, and plausibility that allow scholars, teachers, and students to decide what questions about the past are important, why they are important, and how they can be answered. These rules make history a unique pursuit — neither pure science nor pure art, but something that partakes of both.
We teach history for many reasons, but one of the most important is to help students become informed, competent, self-reliant citizens able to survive and prosper in the complex multicultural world of the future. This cannot be achieved by turning history into a morality tale or by finding villains and victims. The main lesson of history is that the big issues are never simple and that political action is often a choice among evils. History as the study of human passions and achievements is often sobering, sometimes inspiring, but always liberating.
FPRI is proud to announce a History Institute on “Teaching History,” to explore why and how we teach history, and what the purpose of history teaching is in a democracy. A program specially designed for secondary-school teachers and curriculum supervisors, the History Institute will provide an intensive weekend of seminars conducted by leading scholars and workshops that provide an opportunity to brainstorm about new teaching strategies.