Last week a friend sent me the link to the YouTube channel of the History Teachers, two high school teachers in Hawaii who create music videos using well known pop songs, stripping out the vocal tracks, and adding their own lyrics. Those original lyrics are history lessons. So, for instance, one can watch/listen to “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell recast as a history of the Trojan Wars or a history of the French Revolution set to “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga.
As cheesy as they may seem on first glance, I really like the playfulness of these teachers. As I’ve written here and elsewhere, I think historians have gotten way to stodgy in our approach to teaching about the past and these teachers have found a way to engage students without taking themselves very seriously. And they are reaching a much wider audience than just their own students (412,000 views of the French Revolution video as of May 4, 2011). Sure, it’s a simplified version of the past. Sure, their versions reinforce a tendency to compress complicated historical issues into a few minutes of text/video/power point slides. But so what? The point, it seems to me, is not to present a complex and nuanced version of the past. Rather, it is to introduce a complicated subject in a fun and engaging way that will then make it possible for teachers and their students to interrogate the evidence in much more complex ways in class.
These videos were a lot of work and so are clearly a labor of love. I’m not suggesting that we all tap our inner Culture Club or Britney Spears. But I am suggesting that the more ways we can find to lighten up a little, to stop taking ourselves so seriously, the more ways we’ll find our students engaging with our serious work.
4 thoughts on “Having Fun With History”
I am “Mrs. B” of the Historyteachers YouTube channel. (There are 2 of us) Thank you for writing this post! It captures the very essence of what we do and addresses some criticisms we’ve had. But I would argue that everyone do try to tap into your “inner Culture Club”.
Thanks for the response and for the great videos. Would you care to comment on how your students respond to the videos?
I agree about tapping your “inner Culture Club.” I try to do that every day. LOL They’ve always been my favorite band.
Well, my students over the past 5 years have loved them -some more than others of course. But they are used to my shenanigans…We started getting a broader sense of how other high school and university (surprise!) students felt, as well as history aficionados across the globe via our YouTube channel and the comments on each video. We recently started a FB “fan” page and have some great convo there, as well as on our Twitter acct. Both our FB and Twitter are under the handle “historyteacherz” (not to be hip, but the s was taken). Again, thanks for really “getting” us!
Comments are closed.