Connecting the threads

Earlier this year, the Girl Scouts decided to completely redo their badges and patches.  Now, I haven’t been a Girl Scout in a few years, but we’ve offered Girl Scout workshops at the museum for years.  So, new badges means new workshops.  We were curious about the “Playing the Past” for Brownies–for a history museum, it seemed like it could work.  We finally got the curriculum, and I was thrilled to see a lovely quote from Laura Ingalls Wilder on the front cover:

The real things haven’t changed.  It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.

And then, they later suggest acting out scenes from Little Women as an activity to complete the badge.  What fun!

Now, I’ve been using kidlit themes for our annual Girl Scout days for a few years now.  We did Betsy-Tacy back in 2010 and Little House in 2011.  But I won’t claim that somehow GSUSA used my ideas as a basis for this tiny piece of their new badge program.  However, maybe it’s another sign of the growing realization that fiction is an important tool for historians.

A book was published earlier this year by Jonathan Gottschall called The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human.  I’ll confess that I haven’t read the book, but I did read a really interesting article by him about the importance of fiction in shaping society.  Check this out:

This research consistently shows that fiction does mold us.  The more deeply we are cast under a story’s spell, the more potent its influence.  In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence.  Studies show that when we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up.  We are critical and skeptical.  But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard.  We are moved emotionally, and this seems to make us rubbery and easy to shape. . .

Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people.

Isn’t that beautiful?  And for anyone that’s a reader, it’s not a big surprise.  Yet, we need scientific studies to explain this to non-readers.

And then, just today, I was reading an article in an academic journal that talked about how emotion should be a bigger part of public history.  These threads are starting to connect.

All this to say that I no longer feel quite so crazy for believing that one of the best ways to inspire a love of history in folks of all ages is through fiction.  People need stories to connect.  Suddenly, history isn’t so distant.  The people that live d in the past don’t seem so strange.  And for someone that works in a field that seems to be bottoming out (all sorts of studies indicate that attendance at history museums is at an all-time low), this is important.

So, though I haven’t been posting quite as often here, I like to think that I’m fighting the good fight.  For two different upcoming events, I’ll be drawing on children’s literature to explore some larger historical themes.  Who knows–maybe all of you will get a sneak peak.

Cheers to stories!

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