Edward Blum: Being young no bar to teaching history





When one thinks about history professors, the stereotype of ancient-looking men in tweed jackets who drone on about past events that seem to have little significance today usually comes to mind. San Diego State history professor Edward Blum challenges this perception.

"History is a profession that's being written by youngish folks with energy, new ideas, approaches and insights," Blum said. "They're dedicated to seeing the past connected to the present."

Blum, 29, began teaching at SDSU last semester. Although his primary concentration is on the American Civil War and Reconstruction, he's found ways to make history that is centuries old resonate with his students. He said he uses 19th-century music, pictures, historical simulations - in which students research historic figures and come together to debate - and even contemporary cartoons to give students a feel for those times. In one of his introductory classes, Blum showed part of the "South Park" episode in which the characters re-enact the Civil War.

Since 9/11, some of the familiar music from the Civil War era has taken on new meanings, Blum said.

"'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' is troubling," he said. "One of the lines is 'As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.' So I asked my students what that sounds like, and some of them said 'jihad.'"

The idea of what it means to say that "God is on your side" - as the North and the South did in the Civil War and the United States and terrorist groups have said in the current War on Terror - has become more complicated, Blum said.

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