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Thread: Best resources for teaching ancient history

  1. #11
    Ieilaelite pensive_pilgrim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TeresaJ View Post
    We've watched a few of these so far. Chasing the Equinox was actually a really nice segue to The Story of Maths (the first two episodes, so we covered Egypt and Babylon up to the Chinese, Indians, Muslims, and finally Fibonacci). Tying together natural events and cycles with geometry, architecture, history, and culture. It presented mathematical concepts in pretty simple, accessible ways, while telling an engaging story throughout.

    Together with watching Avatar: the Last Airbender (fantasy but very eastern-inspired), it's helped us to push farther east. Fill in that part of the globe a bit.

    Sticking with Eurasia for now does make sense to me, because the whole continent does communicate within itself, slowly over centuries.

    We also started watching The Celts. While that one does have lots of interesting information, it's like the producers wanted to do something edgy and different. Instead of telling a straightforward, linear narrative with one storyteller, it jumps backwards and forwards in time with two different storytellers in two different accents. And I'm like.... I appreciate what you're trying to do here, but I think the standard documentary format exists that way for a reason. Like, they start with the contact between the Celts and the Romans but then make these disjointed leaps backward in time... Why not just start with the Indo-Europeans and then move forward? It makes no sense to me.

    But it does kind of hint at the gap between the bronze age and the iron age, and that itself sort of makes the point that the Romans themselves came at the tail end of a series of empires. In a way they inherited the legacy of the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, etc. The Roman empires reaches its zenith at a great turning point in European history. They are the engine that makes the change.

    Something like that.

    Meanwhile kiddo is getting kind of sick of all this history. We might step back for a bit and focus on physical geography, math, geometry. Play with that for a while in the historical context that he's already absorbed before really picking up the narrative again.
    Regarding The Celts, I think that might be because the most of what we think we know about them comes from Roman accounts after their contact with them, and in particular Julius Caesar's writings about his conquering (genocide?) in Gaul. The Celts did do some writing but not for the purpose of telling their story to anyone else, and not before their contact with hellenic peoples. And of course Caesar had significant factors that may have motivated him to tell his story in certain ways.

    And I think if there is one idea you really have to convey about history, it's that everything we know about the past comes through the lens of what people back then wrote about it, or handed down verbally, and how that was in turn conveyed down the ages, and it's all influenced by the biases of the people passing it down, even today. Hell, we can't even get people to agree on what exactly happened in the very recent past and why. The farther back you go, the fewer surviving primary sources there are. I mean, there are periods of ancient history where the most detailed accounts we have are from the earliest people who would have considered themselves historians, who lived hundreds of years after the events they describe, who refer to sources we can only guess about because they didn't survive. And before that, even the surviving stories were mostly written by people who were more interested in inspiring or entertaining their contemporaries than in accuracy. And when you go back far enough that even the physical evidence is almost entirely gone, what else is there to go on? Humans are supposed to have appeared in roughly their current iteration at least 200,000 years ago, and we're lucky if we can find the 10,000 year old remnants of post-holes they dug to build structures. And people have always had a vested interest in making sure that they will be remembered long after they are gone and only in the most awe-inspiring light. There has always been a vicious satisfaction in destroying one's enemies so thoroughly that their entire existence will be forgotten.

    So much of the ways people lived back then would seem so alien to us and difficult to comprehend or relate to. And that I think is why the Hellenistic period is such a huge deal in the teaching of history in the west. It seems to be the origin of all these cultural ideas and traditions and concepts that have stayed with us and been the foundation of Western culture through the last couple millennia. I get the impression that the same is true for the Han dynasty and Eastern culture.

  2. #12
    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    Even the Greeks are so strange in some ways, though. Their mythology was weird. Their approach to gender was weird. Even the political systems of the various city state... I find the Sumerians in general to be more relatable.

    I think it'll be a couple of years before we really start getting into the details of our political system, and then of course the classical legacy will come into play.

    With my six year old we talk a lot about archeology, which is cool in itself. I don't think he's quite ready for all the nuances of analyzing the validity of written sources, but I am excited for the day we'll eventually get in to, say, Herodotus. We already talk about how many movies and books and ancient legends are based on true events and real people but they get changed a lot in the interest of telling a good story.

    Have you read anything by Susan Wise Bauer? I'm just getting into her. Her writing is very dry, but she's put a lot of thought and research into.... how knowledge is and can be conveyed. She's written several surveys that are known starting points in my home school circle.

  3. #13
    Ieilaelite pensive_pilgrim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TeresaJ View Post
    Even the Greeks are so strange in some ways, though. Their mythology was weird. Their approach to gender was weird. Even the political systems of the various city state... I find the Sumerians in general to be more relatable.

    I think it'll be a couple of years before we really start getting into the details of our political system, and then of course the classical legacy will come into play.

    With my six year old we talk a lot about archeology, which is cool in itself. I don't think he's quite ready for all the nuances of analyzing the validity of written sources, but I am excited for the day we'll eventually get in to, say, Herodotus. We already talk about how many movies and books and ancient legends are based on true events and real people but they get changed a lot in the interest of telling a good story.

    Have you read anything by Susan Wise Bauer? I'm just getting into her. Her writing is very dry, but she's put a lot of thought and research into.... how knowledge is and can be conveyed. She's written several surveys that are known starting points in my home school circle.
    I have not. If it's very dry, for history I find that stuff hard to get through and retain. Also, I've been on an early modern kick for a while which has led me through a bunch of french revolution stuff and just now getting into the napoleonic era. It's fun because I'm finding the origin of so many of our current political concepts.

    I looked up SWB though and here's what sticks out to me. She studied theology and "American studies" and seems to have primarily attended religious schools. She got a BA from Liberty University, the one started by Jerry Falwell... and now she writes homeschooling books that have been described as "positive towards religion". Critics say she doesn't keep her religion out of her material. So I dunno. I mean, that's not necessarily a reason that she couldn't write books like these well.

    It also seems to me like it's gonna be really hard to tackle a subject like "the history of the ancient world" in one book and have a cohesive narrative. There are just so many different stories, from so many perspectives. I mean, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is six volumes written and published over twenty years... and even then, because it was written by just one person, there are significant problems. And I do think that's the most important concept to get across regarding history in general - that there are so many perspectives that make the same events and times look and feel so much differently, and that most of it is lost, and that we should question everything, starting with "who is telling me this and what might be motivating their decision to tell it this way?".

    History is so fraught. Unfortunately I don't really have any recommendations for a six year old. It sounds like you've been trying to get the big concepts across and that's good. And following his interests. If he's interested in technology, I suppose I would recommend the "primitive technology" videos on youtube. It's just a guy in shorts in the woods with no modern tools making useful things the way they may have been made thousands of years ago. He doesn't explain anything but you get to watch his process closely and get a sense for how much work it is to do basic things, and how much intelligence and creativity people have had in just using what's available. The one where he makes a forge is especially enlightening, when you consider how the development of metallurgy was such a huge influence on the world, to the extent that we talk of "the bronze age" and "the iron age".

  4. #14
    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    From what I've read so far, her stuff is more like reference books, notated indexes, surveys. Interesting to browse moreso than read as a narrative. So far her observations on the development of science in classical writings seems to be analytically useful and sound. It'd be worth flipping through if you run across it in a library but maybe not worth seeking out unless you are homeschooling. Even then I wouldn't take it as "this is my curriculum now" so much as a useful resource.

    Meanwhile we skipped the classical era entirely and landed on the silk road.

    Oh well. We need to take a break anyway. We'll catch up one way or another.

    Onto geometry.

  5. #15
    凸(ಠ_ರೃ )凸 stuck's Avatar
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    I really like atlases of world history. I have the "New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History" by Colin McEvedy which is really great... apparently he has an ancient one too

  6. #16
    Ieilaelite pensive_pilgrim's Avatar
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    Geometry is awesome. Penrose tiles might be a fun way to play in that space. https://www.cutoutfoldup.com/202-cut...es-quickly.php

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