Combining History and STEAM- Why and How? A Concrete Example

Nowadays, History, Science and Math classes are still taught in a very compartmentalised way. Each teacher focuses mostly on their own field without making links with others very often. Both in the classroom and in general society’s mind, History and scientific subjects are pretty much opposed to one another. Some may think that History is the past, it is over and done with, and it does not link with the present. While science and mathematics are seen as modernity, the future, and everything new. People often tend to forget that everything we know today in terms of science of mathematics takes its roots deep into History and that both fields are intertwined. We are standing on the shoulders of those before us, and thus past, present, and future are linked.

People also often envision History as a fixed thing, and Science to be ever evolving. Well, History is actually evolving as well, with new discoveries made, new details unveiled, and new perspectives on events discovered every day.

History is also not linear, unlike what one might think. Indeed, there have been innovations made and then lost through time, only to be rediscovered later on. For example, the ancient Romans already had sewers, aqueducts, valves, central heating systems, and many more innovations. Did you know they had even discovered concrete? Some of these technologies were lost during medieval times only to be rediscovered later. Concrete, for example, can only begin to be found again in the 1700s, although of much lesser quality than the Roman concrete.

Now, just because some technologies were lost during medieval times does not mean there was no innovation. The times and means of the medieval period were different from the ones from the previous period. The Middle Ages also have their lot of advancements and discoveries. But some innovations’ secrets were lost to time and only now are we making the inquiries to unearth them again.

This means one thing: it is possible to learn new things from the past as well. It was recently discovered how Romans made their concrete so durable. Indeed, the most common modern concrete is named Portland cement and while it is sturdy, in some conditions such as seawater, it deteriorates after about 50 years. On the other hand, some ancient Roman ports have breakwaters in concrete that are still intact today despite being constantly pounded by the sea for centuries. Recent research has discovered the reason why Roman concrete is so resistant. The resiliency of the Roman recipe comes from its unique ingredients, formula, and production process.

Figure 1. Caesarea is the earliest known example to have used underwater Roman concrete technology on such a large scale.

The researchers’ findings are first described in a press release that was posted online on the 28th of May 2013 in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society, “The Romans made concrete by mixing lime and volcanic rock. For underwater structures, lime and volcanic ash were mixed to form mortar, and this mortar and volcanic tuff were packed into wooden forms. The seawater instantly triggered a hot chemical reaction. The lime was hydrated—incorporating water molecules into its structure—and reacted with the ash to cement the whole mixture together.”

Figure 2. Ruins of the so-called «Temple of Mercury» in Baiae, a Roman frigidarium pool of a bathhouse built in the 1st century BC during the late Roman Republic, containing the oldest surviving concrete dome, and largest one before the Pantheon.

This discovery gave the industry hope to improve modern concrete’s formula and production process, as they don’t use this combination of elements and the modern production process is less green than the Roman one. They are rediscovering old technologies to improve new ones. This is a clear sign that History, Science, and Mathematics are intrinsically linked and can benefit one another. We believe firmly that this is also the case in the classroom.

We use STEAM techniques and technologies more often than we realise. As we have established, some of these techniques date back centuries and are still used today. To be able to understand not only the mechanisms, but also the potential practical use in everyday life is essential to see the point of learning a new theory. As nowadays we observe a lack of contextualisation of STEM theories in class that leads to the disengagement of students and underachievement in STEM subjects, History and Art can contribute to a better and deeper understanding of modern scientific theories. We can go back in time to take simpler manipulations that rely on the same Scientific and Mathematical theories and recreate them, on a small scale, in class. This illustrates the theories and allows pupils to manipulate the phenomenon, thus mobilising more parts of their brains during learning, which also promotes inquiry and engagement. Furthermore, this method shows how Science and Mathematics are rooted in History and creativity, how History is a never-ending and ever-evolving discipline as well, and how it can be mutually useful in class.

We believe that lessons and wisdom can be found in the past in order to explain the present and be able to turn toward a brighter and more inventive future.



Bernhard Warner. (2013, June 17). Bloomberg. Bloomberg – Are you a robot?

Paulpreuss. (2013, June 4). Roman Seawater concrete holds the secret to cutting carbon emissions – Berkeley lab. Berkeley Lab – News Center.

Steve Theodore. (2018). What lost technologies did the ancient romans use but now they have been rediscovered and improved? Quora.

Image credits

Feature Image: “The Pantheon in Rome is an example of roman concrete construction.”, Wikipedia – By I, Jean-Christophe BENOIST, CC BY 2.5,

Image credit Figure 1: “Caesarea is the earliest known example to have used underwater Roman concrete technology on such a large scale.”, Wikipedia – By James Cocks – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Image credit Figure 2: “Ruins of the so-called «Temple of Mercury» in Baiae, a Roman frigidarium pool of a bathhouse built in the 1st century BC during the late Roman Republic, containing the oldest surviving concrete dome, and largest one before the Pantheon”, Wikipedia – By Ra Boe / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,