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Learning History in America

Learning History in America: Schools, Cultures, and Politics

Lloyd Kramer
Donald Reid
William L Barney
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Learning History in America
    Book Description:

    As it extends recent discussions about multiculturalism into the sphere of contemporary historical understanding, this book sets out explicitly to explore the practical and theoretical implications of these discussions for people who learn and teach history in the United States. “Represents an excellent intervention into the debates over the canon, curriculum, multiculturalism, and popular memory. If the book only covered these issues, it would be an excellent text, but it goes a step further and analyzes questions regarding the relationship among history, authority and power as pedagogical as well as political issues. This book is brilliant in its conception, vital in its theoretical interventions, and crucial to anyone interested in history and pedagogy.” --Henry A. Giroux, Pennsylvania State University

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8556-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Historical Knowledge, Education, and Public Culture
    (pp. 1-22)
    Lloyd Kramer and Donald Reid

    Awell-publicized intellectual and emotional debate about cultural diversity and national unity has divided polemical opponents in the schools, the media, and the political parties of contemporary American society. Some of these debaters including many advocates of non-European cultures, critics of traditional education, and historians celebrate the expanding cultural emphasis on previously overlooked ethnic groups, women, and racial minorities. The new interest in diversity, however, has provoked others including many advocates of European cultures, critics of educational reforms, and historians to complain that recent trends in education are fragmenting America's cultural tradition and undermining the unity and coherence of American society....

  5. Part I Textbooks, Survey Courses, and Historical Education

    • Rethinking American History Textbooks
      (pp. 25-33)
      Mary Beth Norton

      This essay begins with two observations, one historical and one personal. They will initially seem quite different, but will turn out to be closely interrelated.

      First, the historical remark. As recently as twenty-five years ago, or about the time I entered graduate school, a debate about how we learn history would not have been conceived of, for the simple reason that the learning of history —aside, perhaps, from a discussion of methods —was then regarded as unproblematic. The shape of history appeared to be clearly defined. Scholars, everyone knew, could be expected to disagree over interpretations of facts, but the...

    • Reports of Its Death Were Premature: Why “Western Civ” Endures
      (pp. 34-43)
      Lynn Hunt

      In 1967, a report on education at Stanford University concluded with this warning:

      General education, as epitomized by the Chicago curriculum of the Hutchins era and the Columbia two-year sequences in Humanities and Contemporary Civilization, is dead or dying. . . . The general education ideal is totally impraticable as a dominant curricular pattern in the modern university.¹

      A short time later, the Western civilization course, first instituted at Stanford in 1935, was abolished. Reports of its demise, however, proved premature, for efforts to revive it began almost immediately. A new year-long course was instituted in 1980 and required of...

    • Teaching Western History at Stanford
      (pp. 44-52)
      Daniel Gordon

      In 1989, Stanford retired its requirement in Western Culture and introduced freshmen to a new requirement in Cultures, Ideas, and Values (known as CIV). That same year, I arrived at Stanford to be an instructor in the new program. I had a B.A. degree from Columbia and was about to receive a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago. As a result of my experience at these two institutions, I was (and still am) a strong believer in required courses in Western civilization. My interest in history began in a Columbia course, An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the...

    • Teaching Non-Western History at Stanford
      (pp. 53-70)
      Richard Roberts

      The universities are in the midst of a profound struggle over the nature of knowledge and the shape of its transmission. There is no one struggle, nor is there a coherent vision of the future. Instead, there are overlapping trends, practices, debates, and decisions, which, when taken together, suggest that academics and teachers, students and professors, administrators and legislators arc staking out positions in a public debate about the future of the university. These debates are going on everywhere: from departments revising their graduate and undergraduate curricula to university senates debating the shape of undergraduate requirements; from the panels of...

    • Teaching High School History Inside and Outside the Historical Canon
      (pp. 71-77)
      Alice Garrett

      Like the textbooks and guidelines of public school systems throughout the United States, the set of events and interpretations codified in the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction’s detailed guidelines for courses in American history serves the function of a “canon.” Here I usecanonin the sense of a select body of material rooted in a historical tradition that bears the imprimatur of the highest educational authority in the state. This canon in turn implies certain modes of instruction as most suitable for transmission of knowledge. The state guidelines have both advantages and disadvantages for the teacher and...

    • History, Science, and Literature: Integrating Knowledge and Involving Students in American High Schools
      (pp. 78-84)
      Glenn Tetterton-Opheim

      Most secondary and beginning college students are just acquiring the knowledge and cultural breadth that will enable them to interpret the world in which they live, yet these students are expected to learn materials that are locked into rigid disciplinary categories. It should come as no surprise that students at the secondary and beginning college levels have scarcely made the connections necessary to view science as an integral component of modern culture, nor have they discovered the potential of literature for interpreting the past. Moreover, while high schools and universities have had some success in fostering the analytic skills that...

  6. Part II Rethinking Categories of Historical Meaning

    • How We Learn about Race through History
      (pp. 87-106)
      James D. Anderson

      As a general rule, the category of race has been distorted or omitted in the writing and teaching of American history. Despite the fact that race has been a major ideology in American life and culture since the colonial era, there is little systematic effort to explain concepts of race and racism in the writing of standard textbooks and in the teaching of regular courses on American history. The inherent confusion generated by this process of omission is compounded by the fact that we tend to acquire meanings about race not out of conscious reflection based on scholarship, but through...

    • Gender and Historical Understanding
      (pp. 107-119)
      Bonnie G. Smith

      Adecade ago, Carolyn Lougee of Stanford University presented an elegant new syllabus for a Western civilization course. It integrated women into reading, lecture, and discussion material in strikingly new ways. From then on, Stanford’s Western civilization program incorporated Lougee’s directions and especially a threefold set of themes. Western civilization courses, Lougee proposed, should present “as accurately as possible the ‘condition’ of European women.” In addition, they needed to highlight contributions made by women individually and as a gender group to the development of European civilization.” Finally, the introductory survey would “resurrect” and “heed” women’s voices as found in their autobiographies,...

    • Canons, Texts, and Contexts
      (pp. 120-138)
      Dominick LaCapra

      Advocacy of a canon of “great books” in education and in the study of culture in general has recently become the object of renewed affirmation as well as attack. Unfortunately, the most heated affirmation has been part of a neoconservative revival that has placed the blame for contemporary problems on education and educators, especially in the humanities, and has seen the return to “great books” as the true path to salvation. The recent plaints of Allan Bloom, William Bennett, and Lynne Cheney chime with a long-standing tendency in American culture to divert attention from the socioeconomic and political sources of...

  7. Part III Popular Films and Historical Memory

    • The Historical Film: Looking at the Past in a Postliterate Age
      (pp. 141-160)
      Robert A. Rosenstone

      Let’s be blunt and admit it: historical films trouble and disturb professional historians. Have troubled and disturbed historians for a long time. Listen to Louis Gottschalk of the University of Chicago, writing in 1935 to the president of Metro-Gold wyn-Mayer: “If the cinema art is going to draw its subjects so generously from history, it owes it to its patrons and its own higher ideals to achieve greater accuracy. No picture of a historical nature ought to be offered to the public until a reputable historian has had a chance to criticize and revise it.”¹

      How can we think of...

    • Introduction to “Interventions in the Field of Dreams with Ariel Dorfman”
      (pp. 161-163)
      Ariel Dorfman

      It is particularly appropriate that I should be speaking to you here today, because my presence comes to you thanks to history, or should I say thanks to President Nixon’s sponsorship of this event. I would not be in the United States if in 1973 the elected government of your country had not succeeded in destabilizing and overthrowing the legal, constitutional, and freely elected government of my country, Chile. I am here, quite simply, because I had to leave my country as a result of the state terrorism perpetrated against the followers of Salvador Allende.

      After seven years of exile...

    • Print Edition of “Interventions in the Field of Dreams with Ariel Dorfman”
      (pp. 164-179)
      Jonathan L. Beller

      Dorfman: I don’t know what the media would do with this sort of intervention but . . .

      RAY: My father’s name was John Kinsella. It’s an Irish name. He was born in North Dakota in 1896 and never saw a big city until he came back from France in 1918. He settled in Chicago where he quickly learned to live and die with the White Sox. Died a little when they lost the 1919 World Series; died a lot the following summer when eight members of the team were accused of throwing that series. He played in the minors...

    • Commentary on “Interventions in the Field of Dreams with Ariel Dorfman”
      (pp. 180-186)
      Ariel Dorfman

      Before opening the debate to everyone, I’d like to make a few additional comments. First, I don’t believe in conspiracies. I want to put this as forcefully as possible because, strangely enough, whenever I bring this up newspapers and critics tend to suggest that I am in favor of a conspiracy. Over and over again, even if in my books I keep saying no, that this is not five people getting together and snickering, “How are we going to screw America?”s It is, rather, the way in which many people work out their problems just like you work out your...

  8. Part IV Political Culture and Historical Interpretation

    • American Foreign Policy and the Rhetoric of History and Morality
      (pp. 189-200)
      Frances FitzGerald

      When President Bush made his speech to Congress at the end of the Gulf War, it occurred to me to wonder what the textbooks would say about the war in the Gulf five, ten, and twenty years hence. It was an idle thought. I was not seriously considering what the judgment of history would be on that war. It was just that, having done a book on U.S. history textbooks some time ago, I have something of a morbid fascination with the way the texts deal with the events we all have lived through.

      My subject in this essay is...

    • Reflections on the Crisis in History
      (pp. 201-212)
      Edwin M. Yoder Jr.

      In 1981 or thereabouts (to echo Willa Gather’s famous claim that the world broke in two “in 1922 or thereabouts”) a new word began circulating in Washington. The word wasfactoid, and as its associations would suggest, a factoid was a statement that seemed factual but was not for instance, that Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was deeply influenced by Italian fascism, or that the eruption of Mount St. Helens had discharged more pollution into the atmosphere than all the automobiles in California.

      The word accompanied the “Reagan revolution” of that year, and for good reason: it described the new...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 213-216)
  10. Index
    (pp. 217-225)