The beginning of November brings, in a normal year, the local library booksale. Our family looks forward to this and the girls save money to purchase interesting books and support the library. This year, I picked up only biographies or memoirs. How did that happen? I don’t know. I didn’t even pick them all up in the biography section. But it got me to thinking about how important this genre is in education and how neglected it seems to be.
History is important. I think we can all agree on that. But with the teaching of history come the need to narrow the events to those deemed most important by whoever is creating the study/text/unit/etc. By necessity, history as a discipline picks and chooses what to look at because you can’t cover it all. This also means that, intentional or not, a bias influences what is included or not. Try as you might, no one can cover everything with no bias involved.
For this reason, there needs to be more. And that more comes in the form of biography and memoir. These two types of writing allow us to see into the lives of real people experiencing real events in real time. Yes, you will still encounter a bias but it is the bias of the person who witnessed and was hurt/helped/affected by the events in the story. It is the story of that person and those around. It is personal and important. And what you will find, when you dive into the genres of biography and memoirs is that you will get more information than you will ever find in any kind of textbook.
Memoirs, in particular, are fascinating to me. They are rich with detail and information about the events of history but they tend to show us a whole lot more about how those events affected people. When you view the events of WWII through the eyes of a child who was rounded up and sent to a concentration camp, you feel and understand a whole lot more about it. When you read about WWII through the story of a Major League baseball player whose life was deeply altered by the events of his life there, you have a deeper and richer understanding of it all. Reading about life behind the Iron Curtain, the propaganda of Communism, and how difficult and frightening it was growing up there, you see the world around you quite differently.
I did not grow up reading biographies. In fact, I don’t really know if any at all were included in my education growing up. I probably did but I don’t remember them. What I do know, is that now they draw me in and I find myself with a deeper, richer, more sympathetic view of history and the events of history. We can never see the events as clearly as the people who lived through them did. But, by choosing to include biography and memoir in your studies, you will enrich your life and the lives of your students, making them more aware of the world around them.
I do plan to write some posts about the books I picked up at the booksale because they are fascinating. I got them just a couple of weeks ago and I have read them all. I encourage you to read more of these genres and enrich your historical understanding.
Lori, At Home.