Lovers of history know that there are innumerable ways to experience the past. To this end, our history classes at Sewickley Academy engage students in literature, film, speakers, art, music, field trips, and travel to support our curriculum. One of my personal favorite styles of literature, which I find myself leaning into more and more, is the graphic novel. While many are familiar with Art Spiegelman’s "Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History," which tells the story of his father’s experience in Nazi-occupied Poland, there are many more stories like it that communicate strong voices of past generations. Here are five reasons why I use graphic novels to teach history.
1. Historic Content
A graphic novel would not be worth teaching in a history course if it didn’t have content merit and provoke discussion of historic themes. All of the books I list here in this post connect to the courses in which they are positioned and support the content of those courses. For example, in my Modern Middle East elective, I have used the graphic novel "Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood," a memoir by Marjane Satrapi, which provides historic background to the Islamic Revolution in Iran. This short book, which can be read in only two nights, provides the foundation of historic understanding through a personal narrative, to better understand the many nuances of Iranian society at the time. In class, this framing also allows us to then go beyond the literature and discuss additional historic details absent from the book, to contextualize events. As developments have unfolded in the Middle East, I am looking to try a new book about Iran, one that focuses on more modern challenges the country is facing. Next year, we will read "Zahra's Paradise" (One of Amazon's Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens) by Amir and Khalil, which is a fictional story weaving together real events around Iran’s political upheaval in the summer of 2009.