History provides its own lessons

When was the last time you read a history book, or an article pertaining to a certain aspect of history? What was subject and what lessons did you learn from reading it?  As many of you have read so far or have known for many years, I’m a history junkie. I love devouring anything that has to do with history, whether it has to do with bridge building, Caesar going to war against the Belger, the Great Depression, the Cold War and McCarthyism, or even Europe during and after the Revolution of 1989-90. It makes a person become more aware of how his home country ended up being what it is today, understand how processes worked or have worked over the course of time, and lastly understand more about himself and his place in the world and how he can change it to benefit others.

History provides its own lessons in life, teaching us how we should act towards our neighbors and ourselves, how we should speak up when something goes wrong, and how society changes with a snapshot of a camera.  Yet, when we take a look at certain events, like the NSA Spy Scandal and how it has turned US-European relations into Antarctica, we believe that it is normal to spy on the livelihoods of others, just so we can track down a handful of people who are threats to our way of life. Many of us take history for granted and abuse it by claiming that we have done this sort of work for years. Yet history claims otherwise, when we look at how our actions have affected the lives of others in a negative sense. McCarthyism in the 1950s tried to contain Communism but caused the public to fear for their lives because “Big Brother was watching you.” The end result of the Communist scare was the lives of tens of thousands of people being ruined. The PRISM program, revealing its ugly head with Edward Snowden who revealed its real purpose, has the recipe of McCarthyism, tracking the correspondance of people within the US and between the US and other countries without the consent of others. While Snowden is being pursued by the US to be extradicted back home to stand trial, it does reveal a system that has gone against the course of history and should either be on a leash or dismantled. After all, countries like Germany have become distrustful over the actions of the US, and even the majority of Americans, some whose relatives were victims of McCarthyism, believe that privacy is the most important aspect in life that should be cherished and respected. If we look in our history books, we can find that the country is in its best shape when it is not as paranoid as the US has been since 2001, prospers without taking advantage of the data of others, and as Ronald Reagan put it during his presidency in the 1980s, it does not interfere in the lives of others. Perhaps we should look back in time and see what things we have done in the past, compare them with what we are doing right now, and ask ourselves whether our actions in the present are appropriate or whether we should change them, especially for the benefit of others in the future. After all, if we say that such actions are normal, more than likely it is judged otherwise; this despite the fact that we have become closer than ever before with 2.0 technology, which we’re trying to be acquainted with.

Keeping this in mind, we should judge not what is claimed only by the government, media and other external sources (groups and certain people), but by what is read in the history books. While some facts in history may be gruelsome and hard to handle, when digested, we can think about the themes even further (even talking about it) and find other ways to improve our surroundings and educate the next generation. You do not have to be good at history. You just need to be more informative. And researching a topic or news event (and their history) further will do more than make you smarter. It will open the door to the future for you to understand and grasp. So let’s hit the history books and learn something today, shall we?


Stereotypes between Germany and the United States (interactive)

Photo taken in August 2010

From the Classroom

Our next posting features another app being tried out for both the two online columns as well as for future classroom usage. This one deals with a topic that is traditionally common when talking about the culture of another- namely in this case, Germany and the United States.

Before we begin, let’s grab a sheet of paper and a pencil, for I have a few questions for you, beginning with the first one:

1. When it comes to stereotypes in general, what factors come to mind? Is it the behavior of the people and the culture, or the landscapes? What about holidays and opinions about important topics, such as the environment, politics and international relations, and even family affairs? How would you define stereotypes and what examples go into this theme?

2. After taking a few minutes to write down some notes, let’s make a list of things that are typical of America. This can be based on what you see on TV, when you encounter Americans or even visit the US. You can make two columns with positive and negative characteristics if you want to.

3. Once you have completed your list, click on the following two videos and follow the instructions below.

Video One

a. Write down some observations from the video and compare them to your notes.

b. What differences can you identify between what was in the video and what you had on your list?

c. Do you agree or disagree with what was mentioned in the video? 

4. After answering the questions, have a look at the next video clip and determine whether this stereotype is typically American or if it is overexaggerated because you find it in your home country.

Video Two (Note: Two video clips courtesy of YouTube, which can be found here and here.)

5. Once you are finished with the American stereotypes, make another list of steoertypes of Germany and Germans, based on the media coverage and how you encounter them. Once you have finished the list, watch this video and do the exact same exercise as in the first video on American stereotypes (comparing what is on the video and on your list and agreeing or disagreeing to what is on the video) 

Video Three

 6. Once you have completed the above-mentioned exercises, make a comparison between what is typical of Germans and that of Americans and find out whether there are some similarities between the two. The reason for that is because of a question I have regarding the integration vs. exclusivity  of the two cultures:

Do you think that German culture is being integrated into American culture in terms of food and drink, behavior, sports, politics, etc., or do the Germans, despite the American ninfluence, refer to maintain their culture consisting of fast cars, trains and Bratwursts?

Many Germans emigrate to the United States and Americans,  vice versa. What factors influence the decision to move to the other country?

People refer to the US as the Land of Unlimited Possibilities, but nothing like that exists in Germany? Why is that in your opinion?

If you know someone who wishes to visit a foreign country, what should they do to avoid getting caught in a cultural shock and develop negative stereotypes of their own?

Once you are done making a list and answering the questions, please feel free to make a comment here in this article or on the facebook or Twitter page under the Flensburg Files or whereever it is posted. Please note that you must follow on Twitter before posting.  Looking forward to your comments and questions about this topic.