Engage your students as future historians of our present times

By David Nurenberg

Samuel Pepys lived through the Great Plague of London, a 1665 pandemic where bubonic plague killed a quarter of London’s population in just 18 months, during which time the Great Fire of London also robbed twice that many Londoners of their homes. Anne Frank spent the last four years of her young life hiding in a concealed room behind a bookcase in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in the 1940s. Throughout the 2000s, missionary nurse Kelly Suter treated victims of the East Timor genocide, the Haitian earthquake and the Ebola epidemic in Liberia.

What do these three people have in common? They all kept meticulous journals of the troubling times they lived through (or, in the case of Frank, didn’t live to see the end of). Keeping a journal as a means of coping with and processing adversity is almost as old as the invention of writing itself; the Book of Merer, an ancient Egyptian journal dating back 4500 years, is the oldest surviving work written on papyrus.

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Social Studies: Four Big Questions to Connect Then and Now

For many students, studying history can feel like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle has been dumped on their desk. How do they even begin to sort it out, much less make sense of a jumble of discreet events in the hopes of ever glimpsing the big picture?

Likewise, current events can seem like a carousel of unconnected facts, experiences, and impressions leaving them with a vague sense of déjà vu. This is particularly true as news cycles accelerate, volume goes up and it’s difficult to decipher what’s happening amidst the noise.

Faced with the challenge of wrapping their brains around what’s occurred in the past and connecting it to the history that’s being written right under their noses, can you blame kids if they’re tempted to throw up their hands and say, “Humans! Who knows what they’ll do next?”

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