The Trouble With History

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Our history is what defines our character, shapes our social views, and gives us a sense of pride in how far we have come. The trouble with history is that it is presented to us as children through the interpretations of historians and textbook editors. This means that every few generations school children are introduced to "their particular version of America", they focus on different events and ideas from the past, and develop their own way of thinking about our history and the world in general. In "Rewriting American History" Frances Fitzgerald describes the differences between history books from her childhood and the newer ones from the nineteen-seventies; the examples show how the changes in content and perspective of junior high school history books affect the student's view of the country and it's annals. The message behind this comparison is that our image of history is shaped by the way it's presented to us early on, which is why different generations of school children develop "their particular version of America."

The first step in understanding this essay is to analyze the points of contrast and similarity that the author concentrates on. His focus is on the political views, pedagogical approach, presentation and content of the two generations of schoolbooks.

In the fifties American history was taught with "weighty volumes", which "spoke in measured cadances: imperturbable, humorless, and as distant as Chinese emperors." It seems like the textbooks were collections of generally agreed-upon facts with an emphasis on glorifying American heroes such as Columbus, John Smith and Daniel Boone. This choice of content reflects the conservative ideals of a united, postwar America in the fifties. It's easy to see how the views of society can influence the interpretation of history in contemporary textbooks.

In contrast to the older books, the author gives examples of content from some of the more modern texts. The focus has shifted from old American...
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