History is storytelling

After a recent blog post, the Loyal Comptons, a fellow writer, Dale Long, mentioned that he used to find high school history boring, but now he’s rediscovering how interesting it truly is. He chalked it up to the boring nature of Canadian history. His comments got me thinking.

I admit, Canadian history doesn’t speak to me like English history, even though I fiercely love my country. We’ve had 400 fledgling years to their few thousand or so. And lets face it, Canadians are not known as peace-keepers for nothing. But it goes deeper than that.

Andrew Stanton said during his Ted Talk, Clues to a Great Story,

“Frankly there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”

Tweaking this slightly, there isn’t a history you wouldn’t love once you’ve heard the story.

Rather than overwhelming students with names, dates and places of long-past historical events, why not tell them a story? I challenge anyone to find history boring in this context, even Canadian history.

Let’s take, for example, the story of Laura Secord, a truly Canadian heroine (not chocolatier).

"Laury Ingersoll Secord Monument db". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Laury_Ingersoll_Secord_Monument_db.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Laury_Ingersoll_Secord_Monument_db.jpg
“Laury Ingersoll Secord Monument db”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

How Canadian high school students are taught about Laura Secord:

Who: Laura Secord

What: She learned of an enemy attack and warned the British.

When: June 21, 1813.

I am exaggerating a little, but I’m not that far off.




Instead, how about weaving the story of her twenty mile trek through enemy lines using some of these elements:

  • Who was she?
  • What made her risk her life to warn the British?
  • How scared was she?
  • What would have happened if they had caught her?
  • Were her loyalties ever in conflict?
  • What did Captain Fitzgibbon think when she delivered the message? Did he trust her or think she was delusional?
"Laura Secord warns Fitzgibbons, 1813" by Lorne Kidd Smith (1880-1966) - (LAC | C-011053 |2837234T). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Laura Secord warns Fitzgibbons, 1813” by Lorne Kidd Smith (1880-1966) – (LAC | C-011053 |2837234T). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The difference lies in the story–the story of a woman who braved the possibility of being shot as a spy if captured. Why did she do it? Was it for country? Was it for love? Was it because she knew that one day her silhouette would grace tasty chocolate across this country?

Tell me what high school kid wouldn’t have found that interesting? What high school girl wouldn’t have looked at Laura Secord as a heroine and role model? We’re doing students a disservice by not treating history as story telling.

I have seen signs where this may be changing. Last year, I went to a history trade show held at an elementary school where the students had to represent a historical figure. They were encouraged to dress up in the period and talk about the accomplishments of their historical personae. These kids were amazing! They took to the project with verve. They brought props and pioneer treats and old pictures, anything to give a flavour of their chosen period. The teachers brilliantly grouped related figures together, demonstrating a sharp sense of humour. My personal favourite was General Wolfe sharing a booth with the Marquis de Montcalm. I bet those two had a few things to argue talk about.

But there was one girl who caught my attention–a girl who had a rocking chair positioned in front of her booth. She offered a seat to anyone who wanted to listen to her story. Then she shared her tale of adventure and intrigue. She had us riveted. Others drew closer to listen. Through her words, you felt the coolness of the woods and smelled the woodsmoke in the distance. You couldn’t help but become caught up in her fear and excitement, marvelling at how she went through enemy lines to deliver a message.

The girl’s name was Laura Secord.


  1. Great post, Cryssa! I’ll admit that my interest in history now stems from unearthing ghosts and mysteries. In fact when I was in high-school, my interest in history was I wanted to be part of the search for the titanic. I wanted to look for lost or fabled architects. Before Indiana Jones grace the big screen.
    I also agree that history in school is changing. My daughters are learning more about the actual people than I ever did. And it interests them. It makes history real instead of numbers for an accountant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dale! And for the inspiration. History is really the search for answers so no wonder you were drawn to the Titanic. A rich history there


      1. My eldest learned about Joan of Arc. I was absolutely fascinated by what she found and got caught up helping her research. I ended up seeing parallels to the Life of a woman I was researching for my story, St. Agnes of Bohemia and it influenced how I developed the fictional character for my story.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Entirely agree Cryssa …. I don’t think history was particularly well taught when I was at school, it was more about necessary info for exams and so on …… I feel I’ve learned far more since I left and I love the subject now …. but “on this day, so and so did such and such” is just another way of saying “Once upon a time” really and from a kids point of view probably more interesting too, I know I would have thought so back when ………

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish we had the ‘once upon a time’ approach because you’re right, that’s what it is. I still remember the sheer boredom of having a bunch of dates drilled into me.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, me too !! I must admit I’m kinda with Dale on the ghosts and mysteries …. much more interested in the byways and alleyways of history and how individual cause and effect ties in with the bigger stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I love to dig into the footnotes of history to find the little known stories. Usually they are in the footnotes and are the gems that spur the imagination.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. […] History is Storytelling […]


  4. Mary Anne

    Great post, Cryssa. One of my favourite stories is from a now long retired history teacher that I know. He was teaching his students about Dunkirk and one of his pupils told him that his grandfather was one of the soldiers who had been rescued from Dunkirk. So the teacher invited the grandfather into the classroom to share his experience. The grandfather excepted the invite and came and talked to the class. The teacher said he had never seen his pupils so enthralled with history as they were that day listening to this old man recount his experience. So you are right, history is about the stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary Anne! That was such an amazing gift to the students. I’m sure they never forgot that.


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