Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A sneak peek into Douglas classes: World History 1900-1945

By Tamara Letkeman

Sitting in on a good history class can be akin to sitting around a fire and being regaled with stories of days long past. The best history teachers are also skilled storytellers, and Rhoda Friedrichs is no exception.

In Friedrichs’ World History 1900-1945 (History 1103) there was no cozy bonfire (just fluorescent lights, alas), but the events that Friedrichs was relating were as fascinating and illuminating as they were historically significant. On this day, Friedrichs was talking about the Russian Revolution.

History was one of my strong subjects in school―I had a sharp memory and a head for facts and dates―but in the years since I graduated it seems I forgot almost everything I ever learned about the Russian Revolution. Dates such as 1917 and names like Rasputin and Petrograd were still familiar, but I couldn’t remember how they all fit together.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but in my head the true facts of Rasputin’s death had been supplanted with the non-facts offered in the eponymous Boney M song (Rasputin was in fact not shot till dead, but forcibly drowned), and Petrograd sounded more like a Soviet-era gas station than the name given to St. Petersburg in 1914 (as the original name was deemed too German).

I also learned that my grandparents―Russian Mennonites who’d fled the Soviet Union in the 1920s―could not have been pardoned by Tsarina Alexandra, as my mother had told me―as she had been executed in 1918 (the Tsarina, not my mother).

But studying history is about far more than setting the record straight. After all, we are the sum of our histories―personal, national and global. Everything that has come before us has got us to where we are today, and will have a hand in determining where we go from here.

And, importantly―and at the risk of sounding totally cliché―as the philosopher and writer George Santayana said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

(You can either take that as a warning to get a passing grade, or examine it in its larger, more critical context. I think Friedrichs would prefer the latter.)

Learn more about Douglas's History program.

Tamara Letkeman has not been in a classroom for a number of years. She is braving the waves to give readers a glimpse into some of the awesome classes that Douglas offers.