I wonder if there's something wrong with the way history is taught, especially at the high school level. I often say now that if I were to do college over again, I'd be a history major. I've done a lot of reading in the past decade, and it's served to demonstrate just how important and fascinating history really is. But I never would have known that from my high school classes, which were mostly a bunch of dates and battles.
History becomes fascinating when:
1. You're able to see the Big Picture, able to see how so many different things connect. It was an awe-inspiring moment when I saw that the French Revolution led to Napoleo led to [a bunch of stuff that I've forgotten] led to the assassinationg that sparked WWI led to Nazi-ism led to WWII led to the Cold War led to NOW. Obviously I'm over-simplifying things, but there is a Big Picture, and you can trace how all of these things connect. Events don't occur in isolation. This is one reason I'm so frustrated by the portrayal of the current "war on terrorism" in the media (and from both sides of the political fence). There are grander themes at work here. It's not only about oil. It's not only about a group of people "hating freedom". I think we'd all be much better off if we had the historical education to analyze what is happening.
2. You're able to see the Little Picture, able to see what day-to-day life was like for people at various points in history. I love all sorts of works — fiction and non- — that are able to transport me into another point of time. I'm a huge fan of Patrick O'Brian's novels precisely because he makes one feel what it was like to serve in the Royal Navy. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Diary of a Midwife is an excellent non-fiction account of life during the early years of the United States. Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, for all its flaws, is a wonderful description of what it was like for early explorers setting off across the continent.
If I were to teach history, I would try to approach it from both these angles, and not from the middle-ground, which is filled with so many names and dates, etc.