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The Trouble With History Essay

1080 words - 4 pages

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 heroes to modern leaders and ideas like conservation and the Civil Rights Movement. Newer books also "hint at a certain level of unpleasantness in American history." This is of course the writers personal opinion, but it sparks the question: Is this unplesantness a form of bias or just the result of a change in content? Aren't the modern books just focusing on a different, less flattering part of our history, which was not mentioned in the fifties? That would mean that publishers have gained more freedom in what they can include and discuss in their textbooks. This could be the result of a more liberal attitude in our society.Another point of contrast made by FitzGerald is in the physical appearance or presentation of the textbooks. The books of the fifties, when compared to the modern ones, "look as naive as Soviet fashion magazines." They were simple in design and had conventinal, unprovacotive photos and drawings. Newer books have sophisticated design and high detail pictures with historical...

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