Thursday, November 8, 2012

How is your history?

by Michelle Asbill

As a senior in high school, I was convinced that one of my greatest achievements was passing the United States and European History Advanced Placement (AP) tests.  My success was not as much tied to the fact that I had passed these exams, but more that I would now be relieved from the obligation to take history courses in college.  Although my lack of appreciation for history did not prevent me from completing my degree, it did limit my ability to fully engage and wrestle with real world challenges.

A recent EUC sponsored lecture, “Does it matter? The French elections and the European financial crisis”, repeatedly made the point that in short, history matters.  Both directly and indirectly, this lecture stressed that history is not just important, but is critical when examining European Union affairs.1 The panel, which consisted of three professors representing two different language departments, spent a considerable amount of time critiquing recent French political and economic history. While there was disagreement as to what the specific consequences of the election were, there was consensus in the idea that examining the history of events leading up to the election is an imperative step.

The most repeated historical reference was directed towards the activity of current French President François Hollande and its relationship to the political and economic context it has inherited from Nicolas Sarkozy. The first speaker, Dr. Jean-Philippe Mathy, reminded the audience of the “Budget Treaty” and the strong relationship between Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.2 However, with the entrance of Hollande, it will be interesting to see how this relationship impacts (or does not impact, but this is unlikely) not only each country’s internal affairs, but the affairs of the EU. Dr. Keller also noted the Sarkozy-Merkel relationship, but also made references to Germany’s known authority in the EU as well as several references to France’s voting history.3

So, how is your history?  Unfortunately, Americans are not well renowned for their knowledge of history.  Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss, in a 2010 article, quite clearly supports this premise through the use of several different statistical sources.4 Yet, the American Historical Foundation asserts that history is of great importance, even though Americans place more weight in keeping up with the present and looking forward to the future.5 All of this presents a question: how do we change direction and begin to flex our “historical” muscles? While there are many valid answers, I would suggest the following:

  1. Don’t only rely on one mode of communication- for example, a person could read a book, watch the History channel, and then listen to a podcast.
  2. Start by Narrowing interests to a specific person or event- there is no need to read a massive volume on the French Revolution in one sitting.  Why not balance this massive volume with a vivid biography of Marie Antoinette?
  3. Use credible sources of information for ideas- the History Channel provides great ideas for interesting books as well as other multimedia resources.6In addition, The New York Times offers a steady of stream of book reviews.7
So, does history matter?  In short, yes, because it gives us “access to the laboratory of human experience”.8

Michelle Asbill is a first year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) degree program at the University of Illinois.  Her previous graduate work has been in the area of social work (MSW—U. of Wisconsin-Madison) and community development (Wheaton College).  Michelle lived in Sofia, Bulgaria for three years (2008-2011), as both an employee of a small Bulgarian non-profit organization and also as a graduate student at New Bulgarian University (degree pending defense of thesis).  Michelle has been awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for Bulgarian language study for the 2012-2013 academic year.  Her research interests include EU policies and programs related to combating trafficking and how they impact the effectiveness of non-profits working in this area, as well as Bulgarian agriculture.

1Lecture details can be founded at:
2Information about Dr. Mathy can be found at: or the treaty here:
3Information about Dr. Keller can be found at:
4See article at:
5See more at:
6For more information, see:
7For more information, see:


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