DigitalFilipino Talks: Making Philippine History Relevant Online

Thanks to the DigitalFilipino Talks episode that tackled issues about the Big Bad Blogger, I discovered yet another website that deals with one of the things that are very dear to me: PhilippineHistory.PH.

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Making Philippines History Relevant Online from Janette Toral on Vimeo.

I must admit that my interest in Philippine History only surfaced in college, when UP professors profoundly — and animatedly — spoke about our ancestors’ emotions, behavior and culture. Those were things that were never touched in elementary and high school. Primary and secondary education tackled dates and events in such an emotionless manner that it isn’t very shocking to find that kids are bored.

Holistic Education
Dates and events, for many college students, are irrelevant. For most people now, these are merely good for dictating holidays. I say this with such deep regret and sadness. When I was in UP and figuratively dying because of my major subjects, my General Education subjects saved me from leading a very unbalanced college life. They kept me sane.

When I began teaching in private schools (after years in the corporate world), however, I noticed that students find General Education subjects — History in particular — to be more of a nuisance than a relief from all the cerebral study load. Students now are more concerned about graduating and immediately making money than enjoying their academic life while they still can. Though I do teach technical major subjects (eCommerce and Game Design are just a couple of them), I find it so unbalanced for students to just want to concentrate on one thing, willing to be technical/work force drones instead of critical thinkers that can form various conceptual frameworks. I cite this imbalance as one of the reasons why this generation of youngsters experience burn out at earlier ages.

But who can blame the students? If a professor isn’t very passionate about the subject he or she is teaching, they will never go beyond what is written in books. Lack of passion begets lack of inspiration. Ms. Gloria Melencio understood the problem well enough and she took it upon herself, as a writer and educator, to address this.

Reframing for Relevance
Ms. Melencio spoke about primary and secondary sources when Ms. Janette Toral asked about history books. Ms. Toral brought up a very interesting observation and she hit it right on the nose: historical accounts are tainted with the biases of the historian. Comparative Literature majors are well aware of this fact. That’s why they compare the works of Gregorio Zaide, Teodoro Agoncillo, Renato Constantino, Reynaldo Ileto (a very unorthodox historian and one of my favorites) etc. and even go so far as to study the works of fiction writers like Jose Rizal to see if they can extract the “full flavor” of a particular period. Agoncillo, for instance, provides the dates and brief descriptions, but Rizal provides the texture, the dialogues, the poetic imagery and language of his time though his literary masterpieces. Primary sources, like Rizal’s journals and artifacts, are the raw information, while secondary sources provide angles to which meaning making could take place.

How do all of these make History relevant? Well, they add to the wealth of knowledge that could somehow be useful to us. As a game designer, for example, toying with the what-ifs in history can be a very rewarding task. I have seen the results of such intensive research in my students’ thesis Mayi, which is a 3D game set in pre-Hispanic Philippines.

Here’s a screenshot of their thesis:

My Personal Satisfaction
As I look at what the author of PhilippineHistory.PH has done, I feel empowered by my decision to co-create Sarimanok.PH: Philippine Arts & Culture last year. We seem to be doing the same thing. Because of Sarimanok.PH, I have undertaken the task of going around the country in search for primary sources — case in point: the Cebu Sinulog Festival and my Cebu City museum visits — as I play willing to be a secondary source. I do this in the name of education and my personal goal of highlighting the importance of embracing our culture.

And like my minor subjects, these activities keep me sane. I work in a very cerebral environment. My PhD studies are equally as left-brained. I needed to participate in this project to bring about holistic perspectives, which are my keys to maintaining a balanced lifestyle. Though I don’t intend to be an entrepreneur just yet, I’m hoping my passion will keep me from becoming a drone.

Ms. Melencio’s interview — which centered on her passion and her advocacy — seemed to be echoing my sentiments, which is why her blog has just been added to my reader. Thanks again, DigitalFilipino, for the wonderful insights. I have found yet another kindred spirit.

“So this is what you’ve been doing instead of studying for our PhD compre.” – Manila Standard columnist, Jenny Ortuoste, when she visited my recent art exhibit.

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