I walked through the British Museum in London two summers ago and saw the remains of a man preserved in the ground. Scientists had examined the contents of his stomach, and reported he’d eaten something like barley and grass for his last meal. It felt so strange to look at this remnant of a man marred by death and time, but know something as intimate as what he snacked on before he was killed. Scientific analysis has given us countless insights into what our predecessors were not privy to, and yet as I looked, I felt utterly disconnected from the man I saw.
Why might that be?
Though science could tell me the content of his insides, science could not tell me his name, or the things he loved. Science could tell me nothing of how this man felt in the last seconds of his life. His story was hidden from me.
Sometimes students look at the study of History like I looked at that man—as a collection of old objects presented through bullet proof glass. Teachers assert its importance but there is no felt connection to ancient people. This is why I read to my students the translated stories those ancient people actually told, tales from ancient Egypt, from Mesopotamia, from Asia, and yes, from Greece and Rome. In this way we get to know those cultures like we would our friends and family, by listening to the stories they tell. Stories are the road inside. The more we tell the more what is distant and disconnected will come alive for our students.