History is fundamental to promoting the general goals of a liberal arts education. It sharpens critical thinking, reading, and writing, but I believe there are even more specific skills that it teaches well. These include training students to find and interpret primary sources; understand the contextual basis for choices and decisions; synthesize large amounts of information into a general but commanding narrative; and develop chronological reasoning. In these ways, students can explore their worlds with a clearer understanding of the hold of the past.
History, then, is an important perspective to add to almost any conversation, public or private. Almost all the courses I teach use the past to inspire students’ questions and quests rather than focus predominantly on disciplinary training. To this end, I increasingly work with partners and/or project-based learning. Three elements repeat throughout these course offerings: historical research (especially archival investigation), collaboration (with partners inside the university as well as outside of it), and public participation and presentation (whether a performance, website, or guide).