The study of the past sits somewhere between science and art. Science, since it is firmly based on examination of first-hand sources and interpretation of secondary reports; art, since it is not possible to visit the days past, so stories must be crafted from fragments, remains and conflicting ruins.
While the heart of learning how to study is kick started in the classroom, there are some skills that are best picked up in the field. Young people can learn analytical skills that will enable them to succeed at the subject and think about the past in a wiser way.
There is a simple need for memory retention in order to understand the past. No matter how imaginative or profound your capacity for interpretation may be, if you cannot get dates, numbers and names correct, you are crafting erroneous facts and narratives. The great benefit of school history trips over learning in the classroom is that students will find their memories piqued by the tangible experience of visiting ruins, handling artefacts and walking in the footsteps of great personalities from yesteryear. In fact, the very excitement and fun of travelling will aid students in remembering what they see and learn.
Question second-hand sources
At some point, students will learn that second-hand sources, while the backbone of popular narratives about the past, can only be trusted so far. Every historian has their own bias and bone to pick. By embarking on school history trips, youngsters can come face to face with first-hand sources. For example, the remnants of the Acropolis, the inscriptions on urns at Knossos, the artefacts in the British Museum and the writings from the founding fathers in Washington D.C. all take on extra potency and life when seen first-hand. When they are seen in this form, students can use them to question second-hand sources and so develop the profound analytical skill of crafting their own narratives of the past.
Evaluate different opinions
One of the great boons of studying the past is the way it helps you evaluate the present day. While on school history trips, young learners will be encouraged to question what they have read from second-hand sources in such a way that they form their own opinions of the past. In so doing, they will develop skills in questioning the news and narratives around them. So, a trip to the museums and cemeteries of Madrid or the galleries of Paris, for example, will help students think more critically about their own society.
Communicate with experts
Most students who develop a love for antiquity and the past will one day respect the hard work done by their best teachers. But when on school history trips, they will be uniquely exposed to the thoughts, words and opinions of experts in their fields. The curators of the Acropolis museum, the guides at the Tower of London, or the experts who work at the art galleries of New York, among so many others, will open malleable minds to a new level.