‘Kids these days don’t care about history.’ You know you’ve heard it. You might have said it. You might have said it recently.
Well don’t ever say it to me.
My students mock such flippancy. Gettysburg College is such a special place to work as a historian, in part, because this place attracts students who are just plain interested in history. Their wheels turn, they chomp at the historiographical bit, they size up the past and come out of their corners swinging. (We use all manner of metaphor here at the CWI)
Of course, there are lots of history buffs hanging around Gettysburg. But our students transcend the usual buffery. It is one thing to really like history – to relish in minutia – to memorize the trivia associated with events, places, and people. But is it another thing altogether to try to take that knowledge and apply it – interpret the past in new and meaningful ways – to question the way we look at our heroes and villains, our narratives of triumph and defeat, and complicate the lazy binaries and reductions so frequent in historical discourse.
Our students love history enough to ask hard questions and evade easy answers. Their journey is one of unabashed intellectualism. Here nerdishness is a virtue.
If ‘the kids’ of the future are to care about the past, then we need to make sure to show them that the study of history is relevant and accessible. This is easier written than accomplished. One of the best ways to garner interest, I think, is by showing that students can do #greatwork. Our CWI Fellows are an outstanding example of what undergraduate students can do. They take historical enthusiasm and make real history.
Just look at our blog. This year we published over eighty pieces on The Gettysburg Compiler written by our CWI Fellows. Scroll back through and you will see a wide assortment of topics. Much of what we post is original research by students who are actively learning their art and applying their knowledge from the classroom to the blog. They are developing their historical skills online, right in front of all of you.
Their work is impressive in its breadth and demonstrative of the changing character of scholarship on violence and war. This year they wrote on prisoners of war, amputees, veterans, masculinity, film representations, war legacies, print culture, the theatre of war, and war literature, to name some of the topics. Look back through and you will be impressed by their abilities.
Beyond anything else, our CWI Fellows have demonstrated brazen passion. These students care about history enough to want to tell original stories, to dig new mines of scholarship and tap into new seams of inquiry. They’ve worked extremely hard and I very much look forward to seeing what they can do in 2014-2015. Thank you all for reading our posts this year and know there is much to look forward to.