How to Learn History

By Sara Boyle, intern

As an English major and humanities nerd, I am fascinated by history. It was never my favorite subject in school because I had trouble putting the sequences of events we were taught into relevant context. However, in recent years, through documentaries, plays, and historical fiction novels, I have discovered that I love history for one of the same reasons I love a good story: fondness for a complex character. Whether it’s Julius Caesar, Emma Bovary, or even Walter White, a character with contradictions leaves me thinking about them long after I finish reading (or watching). One character I have learned about extensively in the last few months is Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States.

IH_FNL_cvr_webMy first run-in with LBJ’s story was when I saw the play All the Way by Robert Schenkkan at the Alley Theatre. I was required to attend for my English class for the purpose of viewing a contemporary play. What I took away from the production was an appreciation for the writing, but also a newfound admiration for LBJ. Before seeing the play, all I knew about Lyndon B. Johnson was that he was from Texas and became the president after JFK was assassinated. I left the theatre focused on the playwright’s portrayal of LBJ as fierce and dynamic, but not without moments of self-doubt.

A few weeks later, in an episode of the docuseries The Sixties on CNN, there was an episode focusing on LBJ and his impact on the Civil Rights movement. It was a happy coincidence that I tuned in that night and I enjoyed furthering my knowledge on LBJ and the era in which he led and lived.

My most recent run-in with LBJ was while copyediting Talmage Boston’s Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers From the Experts About Our Presidents to be released in September. As an intern, I am lucky enough to be able to assist with copyediting manuscripts. While proofing, I get to read on the job. When I started working on the LBJ chapter, I once again was able to learn about a person I am interested in through storytelling.

Through storytelling, concepts that may be hard to grasp are made easy to understand. All of our titles by Mary Dodson Wade are the perfect example of great storytelling. She takes figures like Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and Stephen F. Austin and writes their story like fiction, a style less intimidating and more appealing to younger readers.

When written or told well, stories can ignite curiosity in even the most indifferent person’s mind. LBJ isn’t a president that millennials are very familiar with. The only way that I was able to connect so strongly with his role in history was by an entertaining story told through accessible mediums. History is not meant to be learned by memorizing dates and names; it’s about people and their lasting impact on the world.

Bright Sky Press, where Texas Meets Books Storytelling.