Getting a Broad View of History


For a long time I've felt that my grasp of history was very weak. My understanding of when significant chunks of history (even as big as the Roman empire) occurred relative to others has been murky at best. I think this has really stunted parts of my education because I haven't been as willing to engage with ideas and facts which are embedded in a historical context.

I realized that to overcome this, I needed to internalize a broad view of history within which I could situate those facts and ideas I had glossed over before. The past few years I have been gradually developing my spaced-repetition flashcard practice and this seems like the perfect candidate for it. It is much easier to be willing to dive into a chunk of history and memorize the dates for it if I can be confident that I will retain that information for that long term, and spaced-repetition gives me that confidence. However, the hard parts of making flash cards are in deciding what to memorize in the first place and then in digesting that down into pieces that will stick while retaining the cohesion of the whole.

This is a real obstacle since the time it would take to find sources that are at the appropriate level of depth for my purposes while also gathering enough of them to cover the entire sweep of human history could easily take more time than I'd be willing to devote to the project. And so the idea languished, until I came across the Core Knowledge curriculum, which is a creative commons licensed curriculum for elementary schools. This actually makes it perfect for my purposes: elementary school will typically cover the breadth of recorded history at a depth that makes it easy to get through without being bogged down. Each course is short enough that I can cover it with the free time I have (I can do an entire course in a day if needed), but has enough content that the cards I make from it can support each other instead of being separate, unconnected facts.

So I selected a few dozen of the history courses and threw in some geography for good measure. I figured I'd start with the high-priority ones and add in others as I felt like it. So far I've done only three courses over about a year since I'm only doing this as a side-side-project. However, at this point, I feel like I have a good rhythm and have some confidence that I will actually retain the courses I've covered while still having the time to continue making progress.

Only the long-term will tell whether this approach is worthwhile, but I'm confident enough to keep at it.