If You Want To Study History Effectively, Grab A Comic Book And A Map First

If You Want To Study History Effectively, Grab A Comic Book And A Map First

If the study of history is your worst nightmare, this can help.

There is no imagination without the past. There is no past without stories.

Scrolling through Instagram, I landed on the post of a traveller who was Damascus. That’s in..umm… Syria, I realized.

She went on to share photos of Byzantine churches, lavish mosques and the Jewish quarter.

All I knew of Damascus was that they produced the finest steel in ancient times. It was much sought after as sword-making material in medieval India. What else?

Time to take a history lesson.

My First History Lesson

My earliest memory of a history lesson was in a comic book I read. It was one from the Amar Chitra Katha (literally ‘The Immortal Picture Stories’) collection that specializes in telling caricature-based stories from Indian history and mythology.

That lesson is with me to this day.

Once I was hooked, I gave myself permission to learn about the past from comic books and the next best thing, historical fiction, as I grew up. It was helpful to have an atlas by my side. Where the heck did this event take place? Or where was this person from?

In the captivating world of historical fiction and comic-based stories, the past comes alive with vivid characters, gripping narratives, and extraordinary events.

To study history effectively, I started with comics that focused on one personality from history at a time, from their birth to death. They were the central character, but the supporting cast also got a role in the drama. By immersing myself in their life and understanding who they were as people, I gained insights into how their actions shaped the course of history.

No one I know has loved history as a subject in school. The syllabus is all about wars, the victors, dynasties, or treaties with a long list of dates.

The problem is in the method that encourages you to hate the subject with its dry narration. It baffles me that there is no map alongside as a teaching aid.

There is a better way to teach or learn about the past — through maps and stories.

How Fiction And Maps Can Help

Stori-fying history shifts the narrative to the person, or the people, and the geography that either held them prisoner or liberated them. Stories hold tremendous potential to enhance retention. They can transform the often-dreaded chore of learning into an exciting journey.

Geography adds contexts to events and can be understood better with maps. What prompted Muhammad bin Tughluq to shift his capital from Delhi to Kannauj? Why were textiles and spices two of the greatest exports from India since ancient times?

Geopolitics can explain a lot, from the Mongol expansion to Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine.

There is still a strong stigma attached to the idea of using comics or fiction as a teaching tool to study history effectively. Prose is like a wall of words — overwhelming to start and almost impossible to finish. The visual reading that comics offer is an excellent alternative.

Fiction transports its readers on the wings of imagination to look over the shoulders of their characters as they play their roles. It gets learners engaged and keeps their interest till the end.

Historic events can be multi-layered and multi-faceted. Employing stories to tell them reduces the complexity.

I was introduced to the Magyar rebellion against the Germans in WW II in a comic book. Their partisan actions and attacks on German military installations are described through fictional characters who lead the attacks. That story encouraged me to read more about a movement that otherwise appears in the footnotes of the popular WW II narrative.

How To Get People Interested

When you read about people rather than a series of events where they are cast, you connect emotionally with the characters. If they made certain disastrous decisions, you can guess why.

Were they easily angered, which led to their downfall? Were they fanatic about their beliefs which caused someone to rebel against them? Or were they ambitious enough to betray their masters?

Everyone loves a story, and when history is narrated through one, it nurtures a passion for the subject. Palace intrigues, personal grudges, and perceptions have changed the course of history. When you read the stories, it plays out as a drama and stays with you longer.

A reading of history through fiction inspires curiosity that could encourage learners to dig deeper. Research can only happen when there are enough people taking an interest.

Historic characters may not respond to what you think of them anymore, but stories make it easier to see them in the light of the times they lived in.

We can judge them all we want today, but it is only through their stories that you learn about the pressures they faced, the dilemmas they confronted and the larger interests they had to commit to serving.

It was not easy to be them as much as it is not easy being us.

Power Of Visuals To Study History Effectively

In India, where literacy levels are lower than we would like them to be, visual stories make a big impact. Comics work even if you cannot read the dialogue. Also, comics make historic characters relatable and the study of historic events accessible.

With maps as aid, the events, the people, and everything related fit firmly in your memory. It’s lesson you are not going to forget fast.

Comics and fiction are great mediums to present multiple perspectives of any historic event which may not have popular acceptance. It is a chance to challenge biases.

Paired with a map by your side, your learning of history is unbeatable.

The next time something intrigues you, reach out for the comics, that fiction book and lay out the map. Maybe your next article or next travel destination will be revealed to you as the story unfolds.

Hi, I am Nalanda. I write about Adventure Travel, Personal Effectiveness, and stories from the rich tapestry of LIFE as seen on the trails!

If you like this article, you’ll love my Newsletter — Get, Set, Adventure. It’ll drop twice a month.

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