Friday, October 19, 2007

Are You In Step With History?




I always tell my students that to best understand history, it is imperative to attempt to walk in the shoes of those who preceded us; to better understand an unfamiliar place or culture, attempt to walk in the shoes of others. And history is not a science insofar as historians can recreate a context like a scientist can recreate conditions for an experiment. In many ways, history is highly educated guessing based on documentary evidence and the historian's imagination.

So, what does it look like if one walk's in the shoes of a historical figure--literally?

Meet A.J. Jacobs. (Check out his blog here.) He's a journalist, an author, and an innovator--I call him a journalistic sociologist. He applies himself to his craft in inventive, interesting ways.


His latest project involved him taking the moral imperatives and prescriptions for living from Bible literally. The result is a book titled The Year of Living Biblically. Read and listen to an excerpt here. Read a review of the book here.


As you listen and you read--and perhaps read the book itself--think about this experiment in terms of what you can learn about history from it.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: To what extent did Jacobs live in the shoes of those in the Bible who preceded him? What did he learn? What was most transformative, interesting, and/or challenging? Could you ever see yourself conducting this kind of experiment?



And so an application question for my students: If you could walk in the shoes of a historical figure in American history, whose shoes would you try on and why? What do you suppose you might learn? Why?




Use your imagination and answer in the comments section.


[Photo credit here.]

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Even though A.J. Jacobs lived the Bible literally, he did conform some of the biblical laws to a more acceptable stanard. An example would be the stoneing story. He did not actually go and throw a huge stone at a man (or push him off a cliff) but casully dropped pebbles on his shoe. I think he undertook this project to find his faith or prove his lack of faith had reason. He found commfort in the life with such limmited choices. He found restriction ironically liberating. I would think the most challenging part would be dealing with a void in time and culture. I dont personally see myself ever doing an experiment like this, but if I had to choose someone from American history it would be maybe someone from the 300 families brought to Texas by Stephen F. Austin. I think it would be interesting to see Texas befor its declaration as the Lone Stare Republic and under Mexican government. I would love to have a greater understanding of the lifestyle and daily trials they encountered.
Sarah McDonnell
1st period

Martha De Leon said...

A.J Jacobs talks about living the Bible literally but he doesn't do it to an extreme. He says that he would stone those who worked on the Sabbath ,but he didn't throw big rocks but little pebbles. He didn't even throw the pebbles, except for when he tossed the pebble to the cheek of an elderly man at the park, but he tossed it in a mans shoe. He didn't even leave the pebble in the shoe but, he picked it back up. A.J Jacobs did live the Bible literally but to a reasonable extent.
If i could walk in the shoes of anyone in American history i would probably choose Harriet Tubman because as i am doing my project about her i see how scary her life my have been. Living in our time, we find it unfair to be grounded for something little but he consequences she would have suffered for helping others escape the brutality of the south would have been much worse than simply being grounded.

Anonymous said...

A.J. Jacobs did attempt to live a year by living by the rules of the bible; however, he did not do it to an extreme. He had his limits on certain things. One certain thing he did but not to the exact power of the bible was the stoning. He did not actually throw huge rocks that normally would kill someone he just threw pebbles at his feet. He learned many things about himself and I believe the bible also. I think he learned how to be a better Christian and treat people better. I do not think I could ever see myself conducting this type of experiment. I just believe I would not be able to last that long. If I could walk in the shoes of someone famous from American history I think I would walk with George Washington. I would “try on his shoes” because he was at the beginning of America’s history. He seems to be involved in all major events that occurred in our early history. I think I would learn how our country was run and how precisions our country truly is.
Kendall Burgess
2nd Period

Anonymous said...

Jacobs seems to live in the shoes of those in the Bible to a person’s perspective today but I think that some one from that time period would say that he was not close to that life style. He followed the rules to an extent but did not live just as a person from the biblical time period. A challenging thing for him sounded like his appearance. Since appearance in the world to day especially America he would have been looked at bizarrely. I would probably walk in the shoes of William Clark. Going on the journey, living off the land, and exploring the unknown would have been a true adventure. I would have leaned about exploration and the wilderness. The experience would have given me a greater appreciation for what Lewis and Clark went through and the life of the early Americans.

Davison Crake-7th period

Anonymous said...

just as Jacobs decided to walk in the shoes of many biblical figure who preceded him, i would want to wear the shoes of the Jews who were persecuted during the Holocaust. Not necessarily because i want to feel their intense pain, but as a student who has sympathy and interest in them, i would also want a deeper empathy as well. Relating to others and understanding feelings of those 60 million plus Jews would be eye opening and make the event more meaningful.
claire burgher

Anonymous said...

I agree with davison with the fact that living out the bible today and living out the bible back in those days is completely different because of the culture of today and the difference with what it was probably like back then. i would walk in the shoes of Stephen F austin, he was the one who was granted by Mexico to lead 300 families into texas, and i think that had he not done this, we would probably be living somewhere else, but i think it would be interesting being the one leading all these people into a land controlled by another country trying to start a new life there. Chris duncan

Anonymous said...

Jacobs lived to the full extent of the law from the Bible. A challenging thing for him was his appearance. I do not think that I would ever do this experiment. I would walk in the shoes of George Washington because I would like to be the first president and set up the best country in the world. I would learn how to be a leader.

Josiah

Doug said...

I believe that Jacobs, by living literally by the Bible, only did so to a certain extent. Living by the Bible back then would have resulted in many differences than in today's culture. I will have to agree with Harrison in the way that I would like to walk in the shoes of William Clark. This decision is based on our previous studies of the Lewis and Clark expedition, as it would be very interesting to be a part of the exploration of an unknown part of land. This would also increase my understanding and my appreciation for Lewis and Clark to realize greater what they had done for this country.

Paige said...

The historical figure I would select would most likely be Thomas Jefferson- I thought I was a mult-tasker…ha! I’ve never learned about anyone else who’s done so much in his life! From architect, to inventor, to farmer, to politician; this guy’s done it ALL! I suppose I might learn a bit about each field he was involved in- Then I’d be well-rounded for sure!

Paige (again) said...

OK- Didn't quite see the first question...
A.J. Jacobs followed in the footsteps of the Biblical characters that preceded him. For example, he hung out with a shepherd in a Middle Eastern desert for a day, and learned about Biblical history (scriptural references: Psalm 23, Jesus as the Lamb of God, etc.) through act of actually shepherding! It is a pretty good experiment- but if I didn’t know my background and the truth of the New Testament and how it relates to the Old, the experiment might make me think that Christianity was more of a “good idea” with “good principles to follow,” rather than the book by which I WANT to live!

Shannon said...

It seems to me that Jacobs lived ‘biblically’ as much as he could in modern day New York. He followed the rules and codes spoken of in the bible as adherently as any human being could today, seeing as how dramatically different time has changed our world, and our perception. I wouldn’t attempt this little experiment simply because I know I couldn’t accomplish it. I don’t pretend to be any more Christian than I am, and thus I would find it rather pointless to try and live a life that I couldn’t commit to. As for walking in the shoes of a person in American History I guess I would want to live as some on the Lewis and Clark expedition, not to lead or record, but simply help those who would, see the completely new sites, see all of the strange animals and plants, to experience a world that would seem alien.
Shannon Kemp -Pd.7

John D said...

Jacob lived or tried to live as a person would in the bible. He tried to follow every rule that the bible said, even the ones that were small in detail. I think the most interesting thing is that he walked around as a sheperd. I could never see myself walking around as a sheperd. I would like to walk around in the sheos of Abraham Lincoln. It would be interesting to see the types of decisions you would have to make. I might just learn how to make good decisions all the time

Anonymous said...

Jacobs really tries to live in the shoes of people who preceded him. He attempted to do the things that men did in biblical times. He did some extreme things, but still he didn't get the full affect of how people lived back in biblical times. I would not ever see myself conducting an experiment like this. We know so much more than they did back in biblical times that it would be hard to get the right mind set. I would be one of the earlier presidents. I would wonder how things were done. We would learn things such as laws that could maybe the reason for issues that are even happening today. Kirstyn

Anonymous said...

He lived to the full extent of the rules from the Bible, that's challenging. i would chose the current president which is George W Bush, eventhough he's alive. i would want to know how things were done by him. But as a president, i would not start a war.
chen

Anonymous said...

Jacobs took the bible as literally as possible and lived this portion of his life by the rules of the commandments. through this, he learned the spirituallity and lifestyle of his biblical counterparts. I don't think that I would have the kind of discipline it weould take in order to acomplish something like this. If I could live like someone in history I would want to experience the life of George Washington because I would like to see what it was like to start the government of the United States and experince the pressures and rewards of being the first president.
Nick Daniels - 7th period

Logan said...

I think it's amazing that Jacobs had the disipline to actualy go through a whole year living under 100's of Biblical rules, which i'm sure a few were broken on accident. To think that before every action jacobs made he had to think to himself is this biblically correct, is literally unbelievable in my opinion. But was this book written with the right intentions or simply for publicity and profit? I might be wrong but that's just my opinion.

Logan Herring- Period 1

Anonymous said...

It's amazing to think that Jacobs could live by the rules of the bible. He didn't overlook any minor rules, but followed them all. The thing that i thought most interesting was that Jacobs could endure the strict life style talked about in the Bible, because for me personally it is truly amazing to know that it is possible, and it sort of inspires me to try to do something like this. If i could walk in the shoes of anyone i would of liked to walk in Martin Luther King, jr's shoes because he went through such scary times in his life and never backed down, he risked his life for the lives of every black. It would help me learn to do what i beleive in and not let the world influence and corrupt my thoughts and actions.
Cooper Smith

Anonymous said...

I am amazed that a man could be so dissiplined to try to fallow all the rules of the bible. He didn't skip one thing or quit after 6 monthes, he kept to it. He is a good example of dedication and perserverance. If I could walk in someone else's shoes it would be Sacagawa. She used all her knowledge of the wilderness and helped total strangers discover what our great country has to offer. Without her, expansion of colonization could have possibly been delayed.

-Jennifer Gurney

Anonymous said...

I love A.J. Jacobs' determination. Even though people stopped and stared at his beard and made funny comments about his apperance, the fact that he had to have a translator to communicate, while following all the rules of the Bible is very impressive! it must have been hard to stay focused but he commited all the way. Personally, I would never have the drive to do this, but if i had to chose, i would chose lewis and clark. they just went out there and explored, and thats what i would want to do. go out there in search of something not knowing the outcome!.. hoping for the best- J.Graves

Anonymous said...

Wow that was awesome!! HE is soo determined!! how admirable!! Actualy i had heard of a man that did this but i had no idea who is was, and the purpose he had in doing it. I don't this i would ever have to courage to do what he did but, i still think its important to have walked in the shoes of the people that preceded us. But, mabye not in such a radical way. I want to go to barnes this weekend and buy the book...it just seems si interesting.
-Mary Papasakelariou