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

Studied Russo-Japanese War in History Classes a Hundred Years Ago

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

Thursday, January 30, 1913: Am commencing to worry about a certain general history examination that comes next week. It includes over seven hundred pages. I hope to review it all.

Caption: Port Arthur Harbor After the Surrender. Source: Outlines of General History (1909)

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

At Grandma’s school some classes were less than a year long.  Since the exam  was going to cover more than 700 pages, it probably was the final exam for general history.

A general history textbook published  in 1909, called Outlines of General History, probably covers material similar to what Grandma learned.

The last chapter of the book begins with a picture taken after the surrender of Port Arthur. This siege occurred during the Russo-Japanese War.

The Russo-Japanese War took place during 1904 and 1905. Russia controlled Port Arthur and had rail lines from Siberia to the port. It was an ice-free port and could operate during the winter months.

Japan wanted to control the harbor and there were several battles at Port Arthur which the Japanese won.

The Russo-Japanese War ended when a  peace  treaty was signed at Portsmouth New Hampshire on September 5, 1905. It was mediated by President Theodore Roosevelt .

The last two paragraphs in the hundred-year-old general history textbook say:

. .  . the treaty of Portsmouth has guaranteed for China a period of security. The Manchurian question, to be sure is not yet definitely settled. Article V of the Portsmouth treaty says: “The Russian and Japanese Governments engage themselves reciprocally not to put any obstacles in the way of the general measures, which shall be alike for all nations, that China may take for the development of commerce and industry of Manchuria.”

The interpretation of this article is still an open question. It may develop into an unconditional restoration of China’s sovereign rights in Manchuria, or it may also be nullified by the economic interests of Russia and Japan.

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

The Roman Empire in a Hundred-Year-Old History Book

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

Wednesday, November 20, 1912:  Had an exam in General History and although I looked over it some last evening, I got some questions that I was unable to answer correctly.

Picture of Roman Fleet and Harbor in the the hundred-year-old textbook

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

What was the test on?

Well . . . <<<drum roll please>>>>. . . . Grandma might have been studying the downfall of the Roman Empire.

Here’s how I figured it out:

I found a General History textbook published in 1909. (I bet Grandma’s book was at least a couple of years old).  Since it’s  about one-third of the way through the school year, the class was probably about one-third of the way through the book.

Hmm. . .. the book’s 476 pages long, so a third of the way through the book would have been  around page 159. Page 159 is in a chapter titled,  The Decay of the Roman Republic and the Growth of One-Man Power.

The chapter begins:

Political and Social Conditions of Rome After the Punic Wars.—The republican constitution of Rome was made for the government of a small city state. When the great part of the Mediterranean countries fell under the sway of Rome, her municipal government proved quite inadequate for the task of ruling so vast an empire. The earliest political result of the foreign wars was that the senate assumed almost exclusive control of the government. The popular assemblies could not understand the difficult questions  of foreign policy, and were glad to leave their settlement to the senate, which was made up of experienced statesmen and generals . . .

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

How Were Courses Scheduled A Hundred Years Ago?

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

Tuesday, October 22, 1912:  Came to the conclusion that I didn’t know very much in Geometry. We had an exam in it this morning.

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

I can’t figure out how the classes were scheduled a hundred years ago. Based on the diary entries, it seems like courses started and ended at random intervals. Courses apparently didn’t last for the entire year, or a full semester or quarter.

School started on August 26, 1912. On September 24, 1912, Grandma wrote:

. . . Had an exam in Geometry. Took up Arithmetic today.  Didn’t have to but I chose to do so.

In September I thought that it seemed odd that geometry apparently was finished, and that it was being replaced by arithmetic.

But now this diary entry makes me think that perhaps geometry never ended—and that arithmetic was just somehow an extra class.

Achievement Tests a Hundred Years Ago

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

Thursday, October 10, 1912:  The whole school was examined today in order to find out our deficiencies. I know what mine is.

Recent photo of building that once housed the McEwensville School.

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

We hear so much today about state tests being used for accountability purposes. I’ve always thought that the use of tests to see how students were doing was a relatively new phenomenon—but apparently the use of standardized large-scale assessments has been around for at least a hundred years. What as the test that Grandma took like? . . . and what were her “deficiencies”?

This is the second time in the diary that Grandma has suggested that schools were somehow evaluated for quality. The previous year, on September 29, 1911, she wrote:

Teacher has rearranged our classes, and now we’ll have the program every now and then to see where our class comes.

History Test Questions a Hundred Years Ago

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

Thursday, September 19, 1912:  We had a test in General History today. Wasn’t hard at all.

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

I’m glad that the General History test wasn’t difficult for Grandma.

A hundred-year-old book called the Outlines of General History by V. A. Renouf contained information about how to develop good questions:

Different Kinds of Questions

The questions which are most frequently asked in exercises and examinations can be classed somewhat as follows:

 Questions of Fact

  • Personality: Who did a certain thing?
  • Place: Where did a certain event happen? What places were affected by a certain cause or event?
  • Time: When did a certain event happen? How long did a certain period last?

Example Questions

  1. Who built Memphis?
  2. Name all of the countries conquered by Alexander the Great.
  3. What year did Nineveh fall?

Questions of Comparison

  • Comparison with recent or contemporary events or conditions in one’s own country.
  • Comparison with events or periods in the history previously learned.
  • Comparison of historical personalities.

Example Questions

  1. Does a man’s education stop when he has left school? What opportunities did the Athenians have for continuing their education through manhood?
  2. Compare the condition of debtors in early Rome with that of early Athens?
  3. Compare the government of Shih Hwang-ti with that of Darius?

Questions of Cause or Effect

  • Geographical causes
  • Causes lying in certain institutions
  • Effects of certain events

Example Questions

  1. In what way did the natural formation of Greece encourage commerce?
  2. What were the causes of the Peloponnesian war?
  3. Why is the battle of Marathon counted among the decisive battles of the world?

Which types of questions did Grandma’s teacher include in the exam?

It’s been awhile–Where have the years gone?– since I’ve taken a history exam, but I think that many of the types of questions asked on a history test today would still fit into this categorization schema.

But, I bet that there are fewer questions today that ask about dates. It  seems like students were asked to memorize more things back then than they are now.

Class Colors

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

Friday, September 13, 1912:  Found a pocket knife on the way to school this morning. Wonder who lost it?

We chose our class colors this week. Think it was last Wed. They are maroon and gold. They don’t suit me very well. I preferred to have green and white, but didn’t get them.

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

It’s too bad that Grandma wasn’t able to convince her classmates that green and white would be better class colors. . .though two schools that I attended had maroon and gold (or orange) as their school colors so I have somewhat of a personal affinity for the maroon and gold.

Now that I think about it, I don’t think that we had class colors—just school colors. Does anyplace still have class colors?