Picture by Rob Rombouts/Story by Debora Van Brenk
Pirates and punk rock. Gruesome assassinations and weird operations. More than 260 high schoolers and their teachers were treated Wednesday, May 16 to an eclectic sampler of some of human history’s unheralded tales and learned why these stories are important.
The outreach event drew participants from seven high schools to two dozen sessions that also included the histories of sex, the occult and war.
“This is not a sales day,” History professor Jonathan Vance explained, saying the day is a chance to grab the attention and interest of high schoolers by telling stories they might not otherwise learn. “We want to show how important it is, how fun it can be. We love what we do and it’s a chance to share with the next generation of students our passion for history.”
Wearing T-shirts reading, ‘History: It’s About Time,’ Western History students led the teenagers through lectures, a scavenger hunt and an escape room.
“All the lectures were niche-y. They were interesting because they were something you wouldn’t find in an ordinary history class,” said Justin Koch of Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute, who is taking a Grade 12 course encompassing 500 years of world history.
Classmate Connor Young-Craig, after hearing a mini-lecture about the importance of punk rock, said, “When you learn about history (in high school), you learn about the big people – generals and leaders. It’s kind of nice to hear about ordinary people – well, sort-of-ordinary people.”
History professor Geoff Stewart wove the political, social and musical context of punk rock into his mini-lecture. As several of the students quietly sang along to Blitzkreig Bop by the Ramones and Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols, Stewart explained how the despondent and dystopian lyrics encapsulated a time of economic despair and political disillusionment.
Rather than focus only on the historical actions of ‘great white men,’ an historical look at punk music “gives a window into how decisions by statesmen affect people on the margins,” Stewart said. “Why does it matter? It gives voice to people normally marginalized in the history books.”
Music, he said, “is a reflection of the aspirations or hopes of a given group – and it can become an outlet for their frustrations.”
Western offers a number of outreach events for high-schoolers, including for students of sciences, engineering, music and technology.
This event, the second consecutive history-for-high-schoolers day, offers students context for current events by examining the past, Vance said.
“In a broad sense, it’s all about making a better citizenry. And that’s important whether they’re understanding the world from a chemical perspective or historical perspective.”