Jovita Idar teaching a group of students

Why History Class Should Change With The Times

The Battle of Hastings. Henry VIII. Rationing and the Blitz.

These are the subjects I remember learning about in history class.

Subjects that held my interest for a time but invariably left myself and my classmates scratching our heads and questioning, even then, the rationale behind an outdated syllabus.

Why, when the world outside our classroom window was experiencing such tumultuous change, were we being taught about an 11th-century tapestry?

Wouldn’t learning about recent history prepare us better to unpick the present and ultimately to help shape the future?

When Black Lives Matter demonstrators toppled a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol earlier this month, it added impetus to a growing debate around the nature of history.

More and more people are starting to ask questions like What is history? Who writes it? Why do we celebrate some people with statues and not others?

In an open letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, members of a group known as Black Curriculum questioned the current syllabi’s chronic lack of diversity and demanded change. 

“Learning black history should not be a choice,” they argued “but should be mandatory.”

Finally, the call to rethink what our young people are being taught in history classrooms up and down the country has gone mainstream.

And not before time.

It was only by rummaging through the well-worn offerings in our local library and secondhand bookshops that I was able to expand my knowledge of the world. 

I gorged on potted histories, hoovered up biographies and autobiographies (Michael Collins, Emmeline Pankhurst, Malcolm X, Gandhi), and became a lifelong fan of historical fiction.

What I would have done for the Internet and a bite-sized video series like Untold!

In writing these videos, which delve into the lesser-known aspects of American history, I’ve learned about the Founding Fathers and the makeup of the US Constitution, about the laws that govern modern America, about artifacts that shed light on the American experience and, crucially, about the individuals that America has tragically dined to forget and the injustices they lived with and fought against.

People like African American Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin, the man who organised the March on Washington, whose impact on the movement is overshadowed by the legacy of his friend and mentor, Martin Luther King Jr, because Bayard was gay and his colleagues were ashamed.

People like Jovita Idar, a Mexican American educator turned journalist, who used her pen to expose the violence and discrimination that generations of her people had been subjected to in a country that ostensibly prides itself on being a nation of immigrants.

People like Jim Thorpe, arguably America’s greatest ever sportsman – a double Olympic gold medalist turned professional baseball, football and basketball player – whose name is not as well known today as the likes of Babe Ruth because America was, and perhaps still is, not prepared to idolise a Native American.

The videos that make up the Untold collection are tools that any teacher can use in their classroom and every student can learn from.

It was a privilege to script them and it’s a joy to see them now, going out into the world, after so many of the Makematic team – our producers, animators and sound designer – brought their talents to bear to make these videos the best they can be.

Why?

Because the time that I spent researching and writing these videos taught me much – and perhaps more importantly, reinforced some of the beliefs that I already have.

That history should be accessible to everyone. That it should not be tainted by ideology. And that it should speak truth to power.

I hope that the young people who watch the Untold videos come to agree –because only when we truly understand where we’ve come from can we hope to pave the way to a better future.

Untold: Stories You Won’t Learn About In A Textbook

Stories you won’t learn about in a textbook

Watch the first two Untold episodes here

Perhaps now, more than ever, our history is a vital and very present part of the world around us. So it’s hugely important that young people feel a part of that conversation and can see themselves reflected in our shared past.

Untold is a free collection of short, compelling, history videos and animations designed to engage new audiences in a new conversation and

  • shine a light on the stories that don’t always make it into the classroom
  • and question what we think we know about those that do.

Not everything worth knowing exists inside the cover of our history textbooks. Untold is here to fill in the gaps and bring new stories to life.

This is a project of the Driving Force Institute for Public Engagement. Produced and distributed by Makematic with the USC Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education

Untold will feature three series which is broken down below.

America Explained

Easy-to-understand, descriptive videos that will break down complex topics and events from throughout America’s history from both sides and offer a present parallel for your students to extrapolate on. Topics will range from Impeachment to the NRA to Global Warming to even How Prostitution Built The Wild West and much, much more!

The Significance of 1619 is now live and it delves into the three significant & infamous events that forever defined America as we know it. These include the establishment of the Virginia General Assembly, the arrival of Englishwomen, and the first officially documented trading of African slaves from Angola.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Nikole Hannah-Jones who wrote the New York Times’ 1619 Project examines the impact of 1619 in further detail and relates it back to America’s own historical and cultural development. You can watch this now in 1619: The Legacy of Slavery in America.

The Museum of Artifacts That Made America

This series takes place in a fully, virtual reality, fantasy museum of real historical American objects! Each film explains the historical relevance and detail of the object, whilst providing an informative context.

Did you know? Hip hop was born in the Bronx of New York City back in the 1970s? Now a staple of mainstream music but back then, this pioneering work was thanks to DJ Kool Herc’s Turntable. You can find out more about how they came to be as the first video to be released for our Artifacts That Made America series.

Hidden Histories

A series of full-frame animations that tell the stories of important historical Americans whose stories are not widely known. The viewer will learn about each icon’s life and major achievements and the impact they had on American society.

One example is Jovita Idar, the story of a Mexican-American teacher turned journalist who used her voice to speak out about oppression and discrimination facing her people. We hope you’ll watch this fascinating tale of bravery and freedom of speech!

For more information about Untold visit the website at untoldhistory.org

Follow the Untold social media page on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @UntoldEdu, for video updates and additional resources

What Will Your History Reveal For You?

We are currently entering a difficult time for the education sector because of the Covid-19 crisis.  I hear that universities in some countries are going to find as many as 90% of students deferring entry for a year, many of whom are overseas students and for whom therefore travel is almost impossible.

In our work at Makematic, we are involved in projects which bring a spotlight to historical figures and events which history has forgotten.   This is particularly relevant right now in terms of some of the issues that are being highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement.

As a father of two boys who at 2 and 5 are members of the post-millennial generation, I see lots of differences between them and me. I love being a dad, and one of the things I find the most intriguing is the way that both boys consume content in a totally different way to me.  Call me a dinosaur, but it has only really been in the last year or so that I have become a daily Youtube user after my eldest introduced me to the wonders within.   I had seen it before as a place where people who had ego issues put videos of themselves doing zany things alongside adverts for brands that I had already seen.  How wrong I was and corrected I stand…Youtube is today an essential part of my everyday consumption of media alongside all the other user suspects- social networks, online news sites, streaming 24/7 hour news broadcasts, Netflix…oh, I forgot…and live tv.  

In the case of my two sons, Youtube has been a lifesaver over the past few months of home-schooling, supplementing (for that read ‘largely replacing’!) work set by school with action and fact-packed 2-8 minute shorts designed exactly to catch the short attention span of an under-10 and hold it until the job has been done.  

Particular favourites in our household include Horrible Histories (the title says it all),  Homeschool Pop (a channel packed with lots of short videos on different aspects of history and lots of other things) and Freeschool (short videos on subjects ranging from the top 10 fastest runners in the animal kingdom to the planets of our solar system and everything in between).

I have presented at conferences as well as written before that it is crucially important in the networked economy to target customers using a language, style and media output which your audience are going to identify with and understand. This is exactly what the channels targeting my sons are doing and from this connection with their audiences, huge international brands such as Blippi are appearing.  And at the moment, more than ever, millions of millennials and post-millennials are the leading voices for change across the world, examining the history that they’ve been taught more closely and deciding that it’s time to change it and create a more transparent truth of their own. That change is being led both in the home with the click of a mouse, as well as in the street.  

GlobalWebIndex identified as far back as 2017 that amongst 16-64-year olds, 92% watch video clips regularly online and in the case of live tv, this was largely becoming redundant in the majority of peoples’ lives.  According to Deloitte, binge-watching of online content is favourite amongst millennials whilst if it is post-millennials who are the primary concern, then the continuous connection to video content services are a must.  Coincidentally, (?) the actor who plays Blippi made $7 million dollars last year.

Because of the pandemic, we are witnessing a forced and faster drive to greater dependence on online content and services.  Video, which has historically been prevalent since the early days of VHS, has now become a key and central part of everyone’s lives and the length of time that a human being has to consume each ‘morsel’ of content has become considerably smaller.

History usually does repeat itself, and, dependent on which philosophy you follow, cycles usually speed up and shorten.  When looking back at this period, a time when many things changed, what will your history reveal for you?

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