To my Modern History class of 2018 –
You have studied Modern for two years. It equates to approximately 200 hours of learning the events and concepts that have changed our world. But what do I want you to keep when you complete three hours of furious writing in your exam on Monday? I want you to know you have this:
At the most superficial level, you will absolutely dominate pub trivia. The dates, the names, the places. Use the information liberally, and demand your friends shout you a drink when you know the name of the creepy Russian guy, or know the city where the putsch was held, or know the name of the person who came up with the strategy of coordinated assault that won WWI on the western front.
But as worthy a cause as pub trivia is, Modern History has given you more than that. You will see history repeat itself over and over again. You will see lies told by politicians and the media not hold them to account, and you will say “I’ve seen this before”. You will see rights given, and rights taken away, and you will say “I’ve seen this before.” So the content will serve you well to see what is happening in the future. Even today.
And what of opinions? While you will not be asked how source B & D relate to the study of X, you have the skills now to ascertain the reliability of any source. Verify everything and take no fact for granted. You need to know that in Australia too often there is little difference between reporting the news and opining on it. ANALYSE EVERYTHING.
But more importantly, formulate your own opinions, know how useful the source is to you. Seek the primary. If an article references a speech, READ THE SPEECH. If a quote is taken out of context, FIND THE CONTEXT. Being able to ascertain reliability is what Modern has taught you, and the ability to research further is up to you.
Not all of you will be news junkies like I am, not all of you will be politically active. But please be anything but apathetic. Spend ten minutes a day knowing what is happening in the world. Listen to the radio. Listen to podcasts. Read the news, argue with your friends, watch shows like Tonightly & the Project. Find a handful of issues that you are passionate about and become experts in them. Know that policies made today might affect you in 20 years.
You know how to construct an argument. Keep this skill with you for life. Have a thesis, have some points, have evidence to support them. We are inundated with people full of opinions with very little knowledge. You have knowledge, and the ability to form opinions. Do it, please do it.
I would say you should avoid twitter, but that would be hypocritical. If you do join twitter, remember that you NEVER FEED A TROLL. Test your arguments on friends before you share it with the world. Always be respectful. Know that when someone attacks you personally it is because they couldn’t see a flaw in your argument – it is called “ad hominem” and it is the second lowest form of argument, just above name calling, which is what trolls on twitter do. Promise me you will never do either of them. Refute the central point of any argument, don’t pick holes in it. And as much schadenfreude as it gives you, don’t call people out on the wrong use of your/you’re/their/there/they’re – because you just look like a twerp, and there is probably a bigger issue you can take umbrage at.
Also don’t forget that books exist and a lot of information lives offline. Lived experience is research.
I hope a few of you will go into public service. Be more than a political hack. Earn a crust, learn the efficiencies of business and apply them to politics, not the other way round.
But most importantly, know that despite everything, kindness will triumph. That dictators rise but they always fall. Apathy is the enemy of history. And you are more equipped than most to see what is happening and do something about it.
So go, smash pub trivia, analyse sources, argue succinctly, and study history for as long as it is being made. And never ever ever fight a war on two fronts.
History has its eyes on you, keep in touch, and never stop asking questions.