As a student of history I was forced to reconsider my ideas of other cultures, both past and present. Gazing into the eyes of my students, I now see a reflection of my former self; I am reminded of my initial excitement and fascination with difference as I encountered past civilizations for the first time in writing. Hence when I teach history I invite my students to accompany me on a similar journey into the past, one that crosses both chronological and cultural barriers to new lands inhabited by diverse peoples. I emphasize that history—created by men and women from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds—must be presented in a multicultural framework to fully appreciate the complexity of both human actions and historical events. As we study the multiple voices of the past together, I lead my students to the point where they are able to recognize their own forms of ethnocentrism. By learning to appreciate cultural diversity in the past, students are inspired to open dialogue and discussion in the present.
This cross-cultural journey into bygone societies is as much about self-reflection and discovery as it is about intellectual development. As an instructor I seek to demonstrate that history—far from being the rote memorization of dates and “facts”—is a creative and imaginative interpretation of the past achieved through both meticulous research and persuasive storytelling. I encourage my students to exercise their own historical imaginations by examining their primary and secondary sources in a careful and critical manner. As they join in the interpretive process, I stress that the work of the historian is by nature incomplete, which means that they can bring new light to historical documents that have been studied for centuries. But as much as I empower them to engage imaginatively with both their written and visual sources, I remind them that they do not have free licence to invent whatever they choose. My goal as a teacher of history is to help my students develop a critical art of reading that challenges both their own assumptions about the world and those of the authors they are investigating. These analytical skills are fundamental to the craft of history, but they also prepare one for life in a digital world where information is available in various forms of media.
Stressing the multiple voices of the past and individual creativity implies openness and humility on my part as an instructor. At the beginning of all my classes I emphasize that I am a co-learner together with my students. I always tell them that I am excited about what they are going to teach me in both discussions and in their written work. It is important for students to recognize that no instructor knows everything about any given subject, even if s/he is an expert in that field.