Blog Post #5: Presenting the Past

In 2020, we all have become accustomed to having knowledge at our fingertips.  How many times a day have you either suggested someone “Google it” or done so yourself?  It’s safe to say we believe there isn’t anything we can’t find on the internet.  Accessibility to content aside, what about the reliability of what we find in our Google searches?  Just because we get pages of results for our Google question, does not mean all of the sources are valid.  Or accurate.  Or up-to-date.  Or written without bias, slant or a specific perspective. 

History teachers know this all too well.  Let’s take for example the Revolutionary War, Battle of the Brandywine.  The first hurdle is that while plenty of primary sources have been written about this event and accessible online, there were no digital capabilities in 1777.  Any first person account would have needed to be taken from diaries, journals, sketches and notes and in the event these exist, be formatted digitally for us to access.  If these sources are available, what are the chances they are complete, legible and easily understood?  Often times, the historian is interpreting incomplete sources to create an understandable scenario. 

This doesn’t take into account the perspective of the source.  Could the Battle of the Brandywine be told differently if the narrative was from a British soldier versus and American soldier?  Would the story read differently if the account was taken from a farmer with property on the battlefield?  The story of the battle could be read in several different ways depending on who is providing the account.

It is then up to the history teacher to interpret, filter and translate the online content for students.  If the historical content is not accessible online, the history teacher might then need to put on an IT hat and created historical digital media, if possible.  On the other hand, if there is a vast amount readily accessible online, it takes work to weed out the legitimate sources from the not-so-credible sites.  When teaching history in a digital world, the teacher needs to not just teach content, but be a researcher, detective, as well as technologically savvy!