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Lessons Learned from Celebrity History

Written by Ameera Bhatti (2022)

Major: Accounting

Over the years in various history classes, I have come to learn that history does indeed repeat itself. I have always been a history aficionado and as early as elementary school social studies, I knew I loved learning about the past. Though I chose my UNHO 101, The History of the U.S. Celebrity, based on it’s fit in my course schedule, my love for history made it easy to become enthralled in the topic. At first glance, I assumed the course would entail the study of celebrity pop culture in America. As I looked into the course, it became apparent that it was far more advanced than my first impression. I looked forward to developing the critical thinking skills it would require to write, analyze, and read about the unique topics that were a part of the course.

On the first day, we were given a syllabus of the “celebrities” that aligned with the class’s theme. As the semester went on, we explored the meaning of fame and the process in which it is defined in a historical context. The texts we studied surrounded the lives of each celebrity. Almost every week we were assigned a chapter to read in A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, a monograph that presents U.S. history as a system that favors the elites at the expense of other voices. Each chapter coincided with the background information needed to grasp the time period of that week’s celebrity. To complement Zinn’s chronicling, we also did our own research and analysis through primary and secondary sources. This allowed us to gain an appreciation and understanding of the environment of each figure and their respective period.

Not only did we familiarize ourselves with the era of each celebrity, we also integrated knowledge of these eras into class seminars and used it to examine parts of American’s historical identity. This drove me to learn more about where every person came from, their reason(s) for becoming involved with fame, how they interacted with the people of their time, their efforts to effect a change, and why they are remembered. To further investigate the impact of celebrities in the course of history, our final exam consisted of an independent study on a celebrity of our choice. I chose Shirin Ebadi, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer who was the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. We then presented a poster in class on our celebrity to educate our peers on various people who have driven historical movements.

As a 1794 Scholar, this UNHO 101 class enhanced my critical thinking abilities to form a mindset capable of looking at how and why history unfolds. The extensive use of critical thinking skills and analysis pushed me to develop a profound sense of intellectual curiosity. During class, I was always seeking to expand my historical knowledge by engaging with my professor and classmates through discussion. With each class, I began to feel more and more comfortable in a historian’s mindset. By the end of the course, I had learned to apply the thought processes used by historians to critique materials in this course and others. By creating a focused and narrowed approach to learning about historical celebrities, UNHO 101 showed me how to emphasize and tune into what’s important. I can now filter through bias and facts to identify the big picture of history.

Overall, UNHO 101 made me adapt to a different way of thinking in order to gain the perspective of a historian. Since this UNHO 101 functioned in an archival capacity, having a detail-oriented perspective that was able to look at the big picture was imperative for comprehension. Being a 1794 Scholar meant that I could not maintain a myopic view of history and expect to succeed. I had to be open-minded and curious to comprehend why each historical reference was important. This class motivated me to dissect facts instead of merely memorizing them. I reflected on factors such as race, gender, religion, socioeconomic class, and belief structures to be successful in this course. My love for history, especially U.S. history, deepened, and so did my cognizance of the notion that history is inherently intertwined with past events and humanity.