The brief for this post was 'write about five hundred words explaining what you're trying to do'. How could that be difficult I thought, my website is called www.explaininghistory.com surely the clue is in the title?
As with all such endeavours, it's far from simple however, if explaining history were a straight forward business, there would be one standard text and we'd all read it.
I'm a history teacher and I love my job, I like (mostly) the kids I work with and it is such a great honour to be able to guide them through the process by which they make up their own minds about the world (I try not to 'tell' them about history, because there is not one singular history to tell them about, but many). I started to worry a few years ago that the main problem with historical learning was that it was confined to the classroom and what with history GCSE being made non compulsory, people were living their lives after their school years with a very limited and distorted knowledge of our shared past, if any knowledge at all.
Obsessing in a prurient way over Hitler may have become a national pastime for us here in Britain (I suspect he has probably sold more books that Harry Potter), and indeed there are many important lessons about power, race, national myths and the fallout of economic crises to be learned from such studies. The over emphasis on the Third Reich has now reached such ludicrous proportions that the rest of the century needs to be understood in a meaningful and detailed context.
I am attempting to create a series of short ebooks, nothing over 20,000 words so that people who might not feel like pulling a vast tome off the shelves in the library can access some fundamental aspect of the 20th Century like the Wall Street Crash or Stalin's Five Year Plans. Admittedly whilst altruism guides me, the laws of the market do too and part (but only part) of my agenda is acquisitive.
By presenting a series of self contained, well explained and highly detailed modules, the plan is that readers will become knowledgeable in one area and move on to the next.
The titles I have produced are meant only to be a starting point, a beginning to understanding about a particular aspect of history, not an end in themselves.
In the end, when I've written a hundred ebook titles, hopefully I will have covered the bulk of the century, but I suspect (and rather hope) that this is a task that actually has no end point.
I am rather hoping that there will be other people out there who will want to contribute in some way to the telling of the story of the century, and to contribute to the wider job of making a thorough education in history accessible to everyone.
Learning about our shared past, our shared humanity and sometimes inhumanity is in itself one of the great meaningful and humanistic acts anyone can engage in; it can be as liberating and as enlivening as any of the most aesthetic experiences we can have, it is the birthright of everyone and all to often the preserve of a few.