Did Students Memorize Dates in History a Hundred Years Ago?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, February 4, 1913: We had an exam in General History this morning. It was a review of all we had gone over this year. I was so afraid I’d make a sorry mark, so I began to review but I didn’t get over it all. I got some things wrong, but then I know I got more right. At least I think so.

Picture on page 155 of the hundred-year-old textbook

Roman Fleet (Source: Outlines of General History by V.A. Renouf)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Did Grandma need to memorize dates for the exam?

Here’s what the Suggestions for Teachers section of a hundred-year-old text-book had to say about memorizing dates:

In conclusion, I will touch on the question of learning dates. These should be memorized by all students. It is well to bring as many events as possible into relation with a memorized date. The few students who have a ready memory for dates can be encouraged to remember most or all of them; but the majority of the class should not be burdened with more than are necessary for a correct general perspective of the centuries.

Outlines of General History (1909)  by V.A Renouf

Would a history teacher today agree or disagree with this suggestion?

The book also included some sample questions that teachers might use. I did a previous post that included a few of the sample questions:

History Test Questions a Hundred Years Ago

17 Responses

  1. Remembering dates is not my strong point, but some are starting to sink in over the years. I do like the suggestion. It is good to have a nice table of dates in your head to compare against. What was going on at the time of something you are reading about.

  2. I don’t know about your Grandma’s history teacher, but this teacher gave this student an A- without even reading the paper…check it out

    So I think they may be either a) over worked, b) burn’t out, c) indifferent, d) all of the above

  3. Hope your Grandma made a “good mark”. So funny how expressions have changed over the years!

  4. My father taught history. His students drew maps. I don’t know about dates though.

  5. It would be nice if kids today memorized anything for school: dates, names of presidents, poems. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and somewhere in the middle would be best IMO.

  6. I have a memory for dates and always enjoyed exams that required that type of memorization, but it’s a largely useless skill now that so much information is available at our fingertips. It’s more important that we understand the substance of what happened on those dates and how it relates to larger themes.

  7. Thankyou so much Sheryl for all the time you spend researching and building on Miss Muffly’s diary entries which always intrigue and inform me, especially as I come from not just a different time but also a different culture.
    Seems to me that memorising dates etc. was appropriate 100 years ago but the approach nowadays where students are taught research skills, creative thinking, analysing, report writing and justifying their conclusions are far more important in our rapidly changing world.

  8. Most of the time I think understanding what happened in history, and why it happened and how it affected people is much more important than knowing exactly when it happened… But maybe that’s because I’m so terrible at remembering numbers!

  9. I would think they did have to memorize dates correctly or else get a “sorry mark.” It appears she did study and try.

  10. I remember having to remember dates, I hated that. It bothered me so much in got in the way of actually learning the important history!
    Anyway, I hope she does well too!

  11. I’m with vanbraman…it’s helpful to know some dates as they provide a context. Of course, I am much more interested now than I was as a high school student.

  12. Learning history is wasted on the young…

  13. In the Little House books, Laura writes specifically about her teacher’s exam and all the history she had to know. I love history but I don’t like memorizing all the specific dates & names. I guess I enjoy the stories the most :).

  14. Ugh, I HATE memorizing dates! But I know they’re important to know. I like what the person said about only having to memorize the really important ones. Sadly, today I feel we’re memorizing more than necessary. School is really hard nowadays! ‘course I bet every kid from every generation has said that…

  15. I think they did…it’s why I didn’t like history because it was all mwmorisedmates, battles, kings and queens.

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