Saturday, January 2, 2016

Teaching History: We're in it for the Jokes

Sometimes I tell my students that the #1 reason they should take my U.S. History course is that it helps you understand the jokes.  So I look for examples in contemporary comedy where knowing when to laugh, and why, requires an understanding of basic American History.

For example, in early December I showed my students this clip (4:23) from a Jimmy Fallon sketch about ... the Gadsden Purchase.
To fully appreciate the humor, students had to know about five historical facts: the Gadsden Purchase, the Louisiana Purchase, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, and the Webster-Ashburton Treaty.  As one of the actors in this sketch says, if you know about this then the jokes practically write themselves.

Here's an even more recent example.
Embedded image permalink
Source: (accessed 1 Jan. 2016)
A clever graphic designer took a real historical figure known for being a wordsmith, and then attributed an initially (superficially) plausible, but ridiculously fictitious and anachronistic quotation to that figure.  It's funny because it's something that Lincoln might have said (if, you know, he lived to be over 200 years old).  I'll be posting this graphic on my board when we return from break.

Yes, it's important to understand the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them.  But sometimes, too, it's important to understand the past so that we can know when to laugh.

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