The Unquiet Ghost

It has been an embarrassingly long time since I last wrote. I have lots of excuses but none of them are interesting. 

What is interesting, though, is the book I am reading right now: The Unquiet Ghost, by Adam Hochschild. 

I have been thinking a lot about how I want to incorporate reading in my classroom. Last year I used all kinds of articles and other internet sources in my teaching, but I think I want books to have a higher place in the future. This book has gotten me excited about the possibilities. 

Published in 1993, The Unquiet Ghost is partly a collection of stories from the gulag, partially a look at the state of the Russian frame of mind during the heady days of the early nineties. At the center of both parts is the haunting figure of Joseph Stalin, with all the mystery, tragedy, and horror he wrought on Russia during his reign. Hochschild reflects that for a people to come to terms with a national tragedy on the scale of the Great Purge, they must be able to speak about their experiences with each other. Unlike in post-nazi West Germany, the Russian people never had that chance until nearly forty years after Stalin’s death. 

I like this book because it makes the gulag feel real. It makes the fears and struggles of the victims, the family members, and even the perpetrators feel so close, so tangible. Hochschild writes with an approachable style that makes you feel like you are right there with him as he walks the streets of Moscow and the  corridors of the Kolyma work camps. This is the kind of book the high school students need to read. 

I have been thinking that I want to have a selection of books available for each unit of my classes. These books need to be chock full of primary accounts, or based on them like Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. They need to cover a wide range of topics, from political history to social history to fashion to food and sports. There needs to be enough range that students can find their interests in them. Additionally, the books need to cover a spectrum of reading levels, obviously, but media styles as well. I was given a copy of Line of Fire recently, which is an awesome graphic novel whose text is the journal of an unnamed French soldier at the start of the First World War. It is vividly brought to life by French illustrator Barroux. 

Why shouldn’t things like graphic novels be part of a high school reading assignment? I can’t think of a reason. Especially one whose text is a fantastic primary source! The history nerd in me completely freaked out while reading Line of Fire because I knew I could get students excited about it. I knew my students could acces it in a way a text-only book might have left them cold. 

All this is to say that I need more ideas for books I can use to teach world history. Thanks to some excellent professors in my undergrad at George Fox (shoutout to Caitlin Corning, Kerry Irish, and Paul Otto), I have somewhere to start, but my list needs to be much longer. I am going to be spending a good chunk of this summer thinking about this, and I hope some of you readers out there will too. Let me know if you have any ideas in the comments below!

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2 responses to “The Unquiet Ghost

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