It seemed appropriate on the 100th episode to talk with the guest from our first episode, my friend and former colleage and co-writer Lendol Calder. And to make it even better, we’re joined by Sam Wineburg. When Wired magazine first began, on their masthead they listed Marshall McLuhan, the communication theorist, as the magazine’s “patron saint”. If McLuhan was patron saint to Wired, than Sam Wineburg is patron saint of Historically Thinking. In real life, Sam Wineburg is the Margaret Jacks Professor of Education and History at Stanford University. He is the author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, and most recently Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone), and we’ll be talking about that book—and a few other things.
Why is Sam so great? Contemplate this quote, and hopefully realize why:
In its deepest forms, historical thinking is neither a natural process nor something that springs automatically from psychological development. Its achievement goes against the grain of how we ordinarily think, one of the reasons why it is much easier to learn names, dates and stories than it is to change the fundamental mental structures we use to grasp the meaning of the past…Mature historical knowing teaches us to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we’ve been born. History educates (“leads outward” in Latin) in the deepest sense. Of the subjects in the secular curriculum it does the best in teaching those virtues once reserved for theology–the virtue of humility, in the face of our limits to know; and the virtue of awe, in the face of the expanse of human history.
And who is the lady reading above? Well, she’s Homer’s muse, according to the artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. I like to believe that she is Clio, the patron muse of historians, and therefore the muse of this podcast.
For Further Investigation
Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts
Lendol Calder, “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey”