History & Its Relationship to Other Academic Disciplines

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn how history relates to other academic disciplines. We will highlight commonalities between history and other disciplines, and we explore opportunities for interdisciplinary approaches.

History: A Very ''Human'' Discipline

History is a popular discipline among many middle and high school students. Many students are drawn to it because, in one sense, it is a story. It involves love, hate, war, greed, compassion, revenge, justice, sacrifice, redemption, and countless other ''human'' themes. History is perhaps the most ''human'' of the major academic disciplines. Its appeal is universal and far-reaching.

The study of the past is unique because it can be almost effortlessly connected to other academic disciplines. For example, an educator teaching about the 1920s may choose to integrate some literature into his or her content. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby would be an excellent choice. This 1925 novel deals with the ''spirit'', or social climate of that time period in New York City. Tying in this piece of literature would help students develop a fuller, more accurate understanding of the ''Roaring 20s''.

Let's continue to dig deeper and see how history relates to other academic disciplines. After all, it is not just literature that can be easily connected with history. Here we go!

Connecting History With Other Disciplines

Because history is so ''human'', it can be easily synthesized with other disciplines. Disciplines like psychology, economics, and sociology naturally lend themselves to overlapping with history. In some respects, we can even think of history as the ''mother'' of these disciplines.

Karl Marx, a German philosopher credited with laying the intellectual framework for communism, is one of the most influential philosophers of the modern era. He believed that all of history was ultimately ''fueled'' by economics. He taught that economic class struggles caused the ''wheels'' of history to move. Wars and other historical events were ultimately caused by economics. For Marx, history cannot be understood except through an economic lens.

Karl Marx believed history unfolded because of economics.
marx

Let's shift gears. Think about Adolf Hitler. He was a remarkably evil man responsible for World War II and the Holocaust. While historians can recount the events and situations surrounding Hitler, psychology is required to understand what kind of man Hitler was. Numerous books have been written about Hitler's mental state. How did he think? This is a question requiring a synthesis of history and psychology.

The connection between history and English should be a given. This is a ''Duh!'' statement. Among historians, good writing skills are essential. History is mainly consumed through reading written text. The opportunities to connect history and English are endless. For reading comprehension assignments in middle and high schools, many teachers choose texts that relate to history. By reading widely and incorporating an interdisciplinary approach, historians are also able to enhance their scholarship.

But what about other disciplines like mathematics and science? How are these connected to history? In some schools, educators have found creative ways to integrate history and mathematics. At first, this may seem like an unusual combination, but think about it; the development of mathematics as we know it was a historical process. For example, some educators have created units exploring ancient Greek mathematicians like Euclid and Pythagoras. This allows students to gain an understanding of ancient Greek history and culture, while also exploring the specific mathematic innovations of these men. While Pythagoras is most famous for his development of the Pythagorean Theorem, he was also a brilliant philosopher who has much to say about history.

Pythagoras depicted in the famous School of Athens painting.
school of athens

A 2010 book titled ''Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War'' is an excellent example of the synthesis of history and science. The book is about a labor war in 1914, but author Thomas G. Andrews begins his book by going back millions of years to examine the ''life'' of coal. Heavy on ecology, Andrews successfully merges science and environmental awareness with his historical narrative.

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