November 18, 2015
The Relevance of History in Service-Learning
This semester, I am taking Spanish Capstone and four history classes. It’s a good thing I’m a history major, because that’s a lot of history, and it’s sometimes overwhelming. I will admit, I tend to be a person stuck in the past. Rather than the future, I think about how the past has impacted our current realities. For me, history isn’t some abstract discipline. It’s strikingly relevant to my life, and every day in class, I get to connect historical events to our world today, which I find inspiring. As an ABSL coordinator, I engage with the academic aspect of service-learning. I try to have an interdisciplinary approach to my job and my academics, which, of course, means relating service-learning to history. I have been the liaison for African history this past semester, so I wrote the following description of service-learning as it pertains to history.
Service-Learning in the History Department:
The history department, by virtue of its nature, could and, I believe, should have a close relationship with the Service-Learning Center. History is not merely the study of the past; it is also an investigation of humans, the way they perceive and then try to interpret the world around them. In order to learn about history, we as students engage with readings, listen to lectures, and write papers. I personally find these processes to be, when I’m not too stressed out, life-giving.
But is there a way to render the study of people in their cultural contexts more fully, more creatively, more humanly? Perhaps we can learn not only from written texts, but active, living texts as well. Meeting people in both our local and global communities could connect the knowledge saturating our heads with what is currently happening in the world.
I study history because I care about classism, racism, and sexism; I care about justice because I study history. For me, the two are inextricably intertwined: interdisciplinary, and mutually giving. Studying history reminds me of the world surrounding me, but engaging in the surrounding world reminds me why I care about history. The problems of classism, racism, and sexism are not some abstract topics detailed in thick books and locked away in a vault of dusty tomes. No; they actively shape the world in which I live. They intimately affect my neighborhood, my classmates; they affect me.
Service-learning has been essential in my growth as a student and as a person. It allows me to step out of myself, to (literally) step out of the world that has been carved out for me, simply by virtue of my wealth, privilege, and caring family. During those ventures out of comfort, I’m forcibly reminded that this is the real world, full of pain, sorrow, and desperation. But at the same time, there exists remarkable wisdom, hope, and amazing resilience. As I get older, I hope to learn more deeply and fully how to service-learn not to assert my own superiority, but affirm the worth of others. If at all possible, we struggle to put ourselves out there purely because we have discovered invaluable lessons to be learned from those whom we originally assumed we were trying to serve. After many awkward and even painful interactions during service-learning, I receive something invaluable: not the feeling that I helped someone, but that I connected to someone as a fellow human, and thereby gain a genuine friendship and the wisdom they share with me.
For me, Service-Learning has become merely code for another idea: human connection. We purposefully enter an uncomfortable space and inadvertently learn way too much about ourselves. As history students, we are privy to the wisdom of centuries of philosophers, theologians, rulers, scholars, and revolutionaries. But it’s not only the greats who make history. It’s also the common people who contributed to the history we have today. And so we, as common people privileged with the opportunity to learn, should crave the opportunity to connect with other common people who may just one day form the history that future history students will one day study.