I admit when I was a high school student history bored me as it probably bores many high school and college students today. But, I don't think my boredom was inevitable nor is the boredom of today's students. Boredom is not a central feature of history though it is often central to the teaching of history. This is due in large part to textbooks which lack interest and teachers who lack passion and a skill for storytelling.
When you get right down to it, history is first and foremost story. But, this is rarely stressed in the classroom and almost never stressed in the textbooks. Fortunately, there are resources to counter this problem. Let's consider a few which emphasize not only the story aspect of history but also the fact that everything has a history.
The Professor and the Madman: This is a book by Simon Winchester which chronicles the story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. An interesting part of the drama of this story is that one of the men responsible for over 10,000 entries was an American Civil War veteran who was an inmate in an asylum for the criminally insane in England! You still think history is boring?
The 13th Element: This book by John Emsley promises to tell the story of, as the subtitle puts it, "the sordid tale of murder, fire and phosphorus." The story is filled with "brilliant and oddball characters, social upheavals, and curious, bizarre, and horrific events." You still think history is boring?
Gentleman's Blood: A history of dueling by Barbara Holland. As you may know our first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr. But, this is just one incident in the history of America where dueling came into play. And the details of these duels are no less interesting than the most sensational stories you read about and watch today. You still think American history is boring?
In addition to these books there are others which chronicle the history of virtually anything you can imagine. Even the most ordinary objects. Among those I have in my own library which remain unread are books about the history of:
the color mauve
the American porch
You get the idea. Each one of these things has a story behind it and these stories provide entry points to the world of history. Are you interested in food. You can read about the history of spices, vanilla, chocolate, bananas (just to name a few books in my library). How about nature? You can read books about ferns, earthworms, roses, tulips, cotton. Each one has its own history and this often includes the history of major world events.
I think approaching the subject this way not only makes history more interesting but more real. We are, after all, just the most recent chapter in a long story which continues to unfold. So, go ahead pick something in your house at random and delve into the history of it. See what you can learn, what stories you can find, and what connections you can make.
What you will surely discover if you venture away from the textbook and the lecture is that history is a rich source of story filled with drama, intrigue, interesting characters, and the same kinds of passions and emotions that still motivate people today. It is for that reason that we can learn so much from the study of history. But, we can only learn these lessons when we see that history is the story of real people facing real problems with real thoughts and feelings.