As a historian, I teach about history – whether it’s at university level (in the past), in high schools (hopefully in the future), or through my writing. Standing in the classroom, wherever it is, I seek to inspire students’ curiosity about the past and what that past means for our present.
History is about people – the people who rebelled, who labored, who celebrated, who suffered, who ruled, or who simply enjoyed their lives. When I teach history, I want my students to encounter these people and to develop a sense of their lives, their dreams, their hopes, but also their fears. History, that is, should never be purely about abstract concepts or written constitutions, about anonymous masses and a few “big men,” but about ordinary human beings. In my teaching, I thus seek to provide students with material that makes history come alive – with personal stories, letters, music, films, or visual material. Not least, I thereby encourage students to think about how their lives are imbricated in history (a point I made in my book Citizens and Refugees).
At the same time, I push students to rigorously inquire what the material can tell us about more general questions. Equally important to me is teaching the methodologies of historical research and argumentation: how to carefully phrase questions and arguments, how to support their own arguments with historical evidence, and how to relate their own arguments to scholarly debates.
These goals have informed my teaching at university level. However, I consider them no less important when teaching high school students (if perhaps on a more basic level). Indeed, asking what the past means for the present is perhaps even more important when teaching history to younger students. But they also need to learn how to think systematically and conceptually about history, how to ask critical question and formulate argument based not just on their personal opinion, but on historical evidence.
In the future, I will provide exemplary teaching material, in German and English, on this site.