Empathy in history – taking apart

I am currently thinking about implementing a new way of using or introducing empathy in my history and philosophy class.  The way I want to do this is by starting with our lives – in the present day. What is a human being today? What does the present human condition consist of?

Obviously, freedom is a very important aspect of modern life. Thus, when talking about past societies like, for instance, medieval Europe, we need to strip the student from that characteristic. So: the first question when we will be discussing freedom in the middle ages is to ask

What does freedom mean in our times?

I want the students to write down five things individually first on a post-it- marker. Then I want them to stick all the stickers on their desk. And then, one by one, take all stickers away. When all stickers have been removed, the next question will be:

Is this what freedom means for a person living in the middle ages?

Then I want each student to reflect upon this question. For is it true? Was freedom for a person living between 500 and 1500 being stripped of the things we, today, connote with freedom?

I think this can be a useful way to introduce this, and other themes related to this. I will of course follow up by asking the students to read primary sources related to these questions.

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