Posted by: Kenn Hermann | April 1, 2006

Teaching History Backwards

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Since I am an historian, I thought it was about time to post something on that side of me. For most of my teaching career I have taught history in the straight-forward way we all learned: start at the ‘beginning’ of American — or any other — history and ‘end’ ( . . . well, almost) at the present. Several years ago, purely by serendipity, I experimented with teaching history backwards. It went surprisingly well, so well that I have used the same format in several other history courses. After my initial experiment I discovered that a few others had tried this, but that it was still a novel idea. Most of my colleagues, in fact, remain skeptical for a variety of reasons, none of which I find supported in my experience. I remain convinced that this approach has strong merits. I have posted a short essay on “The Pedagogical Strengths of Teaching History Backwards” in the “Essays” section on the sidebar.

I would particuarly like to hear from history professors who have tried this or would like to try it, and students who have had history courses offered in this format.

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Responses

  1. I’m a new teacher and am thinking about experimenting with teaching US History backwards. It sounds like a very interesting approach. Any further information you can provide would be very beneficial. I’m having a tough time organizing my class and was hoping you may be able to provide an example of a lesson. Thanks.

    Manny Haratsaris

  2. Like Manny in the previous post, I would also like some additional information in how you actually construct a course. I would love to see a sample syllabus and some examples of projects, etc. if you would be willing to share…I appreciate your time.

  3. […] teacher Kenneth W. Herman writes: It is a cardinal rule of teaching that we ought to go from the known to the unknown; start […]

  4. I have been teaching U.S. History backwards for about five years now. I have found that is cultivates a much greater awareness in my students of those factors that led us to our present situation. Not only do they receive the opportunity to learn about America’s current state of affairs, but it makes the pivotal events of history more meaningful because they already know the results of those policies.

    I made the change because I had become appalled at the persistent criticism of former students that their lessons in United States history never took them beyond the Second World War. I grew up in an era where most of my teachers were products of that WWII generation, in fact several of them were actually WWII vets. However, while the events of the Second World War remain of significant importance, current students have been much more affected by non-Second World War Two events and I believe it is imperative that they have the opportunity to study the pivotal issues of their own generation.

    I am only able to do this because the course I teach is a dual credit course through the local university and I am the only one that teaches it. I also teach a World History course but because we have common semester assessments, I cannot vary the order in which the material is taught.

    • Thank you for your comment. Unf., I just was checking my husband’s e-mails and found this. He passed away 10/31/09 of brain cancer. It’s satisfying knowing that his words are being read. Linda Hermann

  5. This is a very interesting way to approach teaching history. I have heard about this, but I never tried it in the classroom. I would really like to hear more about this.

  6. […] The following blogs/sites are the ones in the above screencast: http://hiphopclassroom.com/?p=444, http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2000/0003/0003tec1.cfm, https://khermann.wordpress.com/2006/04/01/teaching-history-backwards/, http://www.bestlibrary.org/thread/files/backwards.pdf […]

  7. Hello All, I am a graduate student teacher pursuing a Masters in Social Studies at Miami Univ in Ohio. I have just completed my internship and I have come away with the belief that reverse chronology history teaching may be the leading solution to the issue of engagement for students in learning history. It would help future teacher candidates and the history & social studies teaching community at large if you would capture your thoughts as official papers from the field and submit them to journals like The Social Studies or AHA journals for publication. There are many teachers struggling out there in this mandatory state testing environment and more on this topic with examples MUST BE SHARED. I believe the comments from the experiences described on this blog support past research findings on this topic. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Hermann is not present to continue this conversation but his essay is compelling. I’m glad I discovered it and we should all consider it and share it with our peers in the field. I would like to share a research paper link with you that was co-written by my academic adviser at Miami University on this topic: https://www.bgsu.edu/content/dam/BGSU/education/teaching-and-learning/gear-up/documents/an-old-fad-of-great-promise.pdf


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