Evan Goer really nailed it in a comment on the last post, in which he concludes:
If you haven’t spent the last few years marinating yourself in [a] field, you still don’t understand the context. You don’t know what’s important and what you can skim or ignore.
Anyway, my point is that if you can give your students even a little bit of this context, you’re doing something extremely valuable. If you were teaching physics, you’d be making them crackpot-resistant. Since you’re teaching them history, you’re making them pundit-resistant, which is even more important.
This cartoon from my office door shares the thought:
Incidentally, in How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read Pierre Bayard starts with a discussion of the importance of being oriented to a field of knowledge: precisely this sense of context that lets you know what you can skim and what you can ignore. He cites the librarian in Musil’s Man Without Qualities who knows what’s in every book because he never reads any of them – to do so would be to get lost in detail and lose the big picture. If raw ignorance makes us most vulnerable to pundits, doesn’t narrow expertise come next?