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“Every textbook should have a soundtrack” - Teaching History with Music

Posted by Katherine Joyce
3 December 2011 - 10:02am

After reading Alex Zukas’ “Different Drummers: Using Music to Teach History,” a 1996 article about incorporating music in the history classroom, I was inspired to see that if anyone had created resources to teach history with music in the internet era. I was lucky enough to discover the historyteacher’s YouTube Channel. Created by Amy Burvall and Herb Mahelona, two history teachers from Hawaii, “History for Music Lovers” features parodies of popular songs detailing historical events and figures. The focus is on Ancient Civilizations and Early Modern Europe. My favourite so far is “Black Death,” to the tune of “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stephani:

It begins with the lyrics:

Uh huh, it’s the plague/

Gonna kill you in a few days/

A pandemic so so severe/

The Black Death caused such horror and fear/

And there ain’t no cure for that, girl/

You’ll be dead in no time flat, girl

Recently, Burvall and Mahelona gave a TEDx Talk in Honolulu entitled “What I learned from Napoleon and MTV”. During the talk, they describe the origins of their project and what keeps them going. In order to make their lessons more relevant and enticing to their students, they decided that they needed to begin to use the internet. So, in 2008, they shot their first video, about Henry VIII, to the tune of Abba’s “Money, Money, Money”. 

Today, they are guided by three Cs: create, collaborate, and celebrate. They hope that their videos will inspire students to do all three: the create content to enrich the learning experience; to collaborate with those who have different skills and knowledge; and to celebrate the tradition of how humans are drawn to both music and story telling. They are also guided by their belief that “every textbook should have a soundtrack,” which they discussed in their TEDx Talk. 

In an interview earlier this year on, Burvall describes how she incorporates these videos into her classroom. She has used them as both ‘hooks’ to begin a unit, and as a tool to help review before a test. Also, she has had students create their own videos as an option for a final assignment. 

There are many ways to incorporate music in the history classroom, from using historical music to better understand a time period, to creating learning aids with current music. Different ways serve different purposes, but they can all work to engage students.

Do you incorporate music in your classroom? If so, how?



Such great videos!

We used her French Revolution video in a West and World class last year. It was really fun!