Generation (Histor)Y

Generation Y, or “Millennials”.

With the expansion of our society into the digital age, significant advancements have been made which work to establish a culture of greatest convenience. No longer do we have to wait days or even weeks to receive a letter in the mail, when we can just send an email in a matter of seconds. Where the library was once the greatest source of the written word, now our devices contain as much, if not more, information at the click of a button. Truly, the age in which we live is marked by expediency, but at the same time, I can’t help but wonder how all these innovations may impact the way in which we view the past, especially for those who grew up in the midst of the digital revolution, like Millennials or Generation Z.

When I imagine how Millennials, or even the generations after them, will view history, it feels like there may be some difficulty when it comes to connecting one’s own experience with those of the past. Just as technology has rapidly developed over the last 20 years, so too has society changed with it. We are constantly surrounded by technology which plays greater and greater roles in our lives, and as younger children grow up, that is the only world they know. It seems difficult, having grown up in a world surrounded by technological conveniences, to find interest in history, as you are looking into a world that is so different from what you’re acquainted with. Of course, there are Millennials and people of Gen Z who will still be interested in history, but how long will we go before the interest in history becomes replaced by a sheer focus towards modernity?

Another issue that worries me is how having access to so much information can actually be counter-intuitive when it comes to learning about history, since there is so much potential for misinformation or overload. At a young age, children browsing the internet may not know how to identify bias or inaccuracies, so they can develop misinformed ideas about what historical events were like. This may even result in the development of dangerous ideas. For example, there are plenty of youth today who flock to Communism based on the information they receive from people online or virtual communities they may be involved in, rather than more historically accurate sources. Lastly, kids today may find there to be so many different competing perspectives or ideas relating to history that they will feel overwhelmed, and choose to not pursue research. All of these examples work to propagate ignorance and misinformation

Sam Heider, a Holocaust survivor, talks about his experiences during the World War II.

But that is not to say that hope is lost. As we move further away from the time when historical events occurred, we become further disconnected, so it is more important now than ever that we begin to promote the value that primary sources have. Being able to pull first-hand information from history helps us to put ourselves in the positions of the men and women of the past, and come to understand and relate to their circumstances. So go listen to Holocaust survivors or Vietnam veterans speak at events. Read an autobiography. Look at journals and documents from centuries ago. All of it helps to create a greater awareness and appreciation for history, and as teachers, we should definitely be encouraging and teaching primary source exploration to our young students.

Just as we should teach through primary sources, it is also our job as teachers to show kids how to identify bias and misinformation. Giving them the ability to recognize when information is biased, or which sources are going to be most reliable, is incredibly valuable. As mentioned before, we live in an age where people are bombarded with information, so giving students the skills and the tools to be able to handle all the information they receive will help them to recognize and value historical fact and legitimacy.

If anyone has any ideas for how we can keep history relevant to our youth, please let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!

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