Historical Figure - in Education

In Education

Plato made use of historical figures in his writing, but only in order to illustrate his points. Xenophon used Cyrus the Great in the same way. When Plato apparently quotes Socrates in The Republic, it is only in order to give dramatic affect to the presentation of his own thought. For this reason, Plato's writings on Socrates tell us little, at least directly, about Socrates. The historical figure is used only as a device for communicating Plato's ideas. In classical Rome, students of rhetoric had to master the suasoria — a form of declamation in which they wrote the soliloquy of a historical figure who was debating a critical course of action. For example, the poet Juvenal wrote a speech for the dictator Sulla, in which he was counselled to retire. The poet Ovid enjoyed this exercise more than the other final challenge — the controversia.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote an influential essay "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life". He said "the unhistorical and historical are necessary in equal measure for the health of an individual, of a people and of a culture." Nietzsche identifies three approaches to history, each with dangers. The monumental approach describes the glories of the past, often focusing on heroic figures like Elizabeth I of England or Louis Pasteur. By treating these figures as models, the student is tempted to consider that there can be nobody of such stature today. The antiquarian view examines the past in minute and reverent detail, turning its back on the present. The critical approach challenges traditional views, even though they may be valid.

Historical figures may today be simulated as animated pedagogical agents to teach history and foreign culture. An example is Freudbot, which acted the part of Sigmund Freud for psychology students. When a variety of simulated character types were tried as educational agents, students rated historical figures as the most engaging. There are gender differences in the perception of historical figures. When modern US schoolchildren were asked to roleplay or illustrate historical stereotypes, boys tended to focus upon male figures exclusively while girls showed more varied family groupings.

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