Tag Archives: historiography

Slavery, History, and Relativism

1 Feb

Recently, John Turner contributed an important post concerning John Myles, one of the founders of the American Baptist tradition, and in the process, he noted that Myles owned several slaves. Myles was certainly not alone in that. By any measure, Jonathan Edwards was one of the greatest figures in early American history, a brilliant religious leader, and a daunting polymath. We also know that in 1731 he traveled to Newport, Rhode Island, in order to buy a slave, a “Negro girl named Venus,” and that at various time he might have owned as many as six slaves. Those facts are not in dispute. But how should they affect his reputation, or how we commemorate him? By extension, we also know that a great many distinguished early Americans in the secular realm were slave holders, including a large portion of the founding generation of national leaders, and so were many institutions, particularly colleges. What should we do with that information?

So begins historian Philip Jenkins’ thoughtful analysis of thinking morally about the past. You may read his entire Anxious Bench post here.

Christian humility and the task of history: Recovering the legacy of Herbert Butterfield

21 Jan

Just over seventy years ago, in the autumn of 1948, several hundred people gathered at noon across seven consecutive Saturdays in Cambridge. The location was a lecture hall on Mill Lane, and they were there to hear the eminent historian Herbert Butterfield.

So begins Australian historian Simon Kennedy’s essay on Butterfield’s classic lecture series Christianity and History. You may read the entire essay here.

Q: “Sir, would you like a history of this monument?” A: “F**k You!”

22 Mar

Members of Historians for a Better Future planned to encounter many personalities along the sidewalk when we set up in front of the Women of the Confederacy monument at the State Capitol building in Raleigh, North Carolina, on September 8, 2017. During our Free History Lesson, we stood holding banners connecting the monument to white supremacy and passing out histories. When one of our educators approached a passerby with an offer of a free historical brochure, he received a decided “F**k you.” But other educators reported finding common ground with most individuals, and some pedestrians expressed encouragement. Motorists used horns and hand gestures to express disappointment or support for our work. Such a range of responses not only indicate the charged climate for public dialogue about history, but also how, in this volatile time, education looks very much like protest.

To read the rest of the report from Historians for a Better Future at the National Council for Public History site, click here.

THE RADICAL COMPASSION OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS

14 Feb

Frederick Douglass portrait

This year’s Black History Month coincides with the 200th birthday of Douglass, and it’s an ideal occasion to rectify some unfortunate ways in which this influential writer has continued to be misrepresented and misunderstood—and not simply by the likes of Trump. Specifically, consider this famous quote that has been attributed to Douglass for decades: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

William Cheng offers a fine piece of historiography here about Douglass and a quote attributed to him. You may read his entire piece at the Pacific Standard here.

A disturbing new report on how poorly schools teach American slavery

5 Feb

Consider this from a disturbing new report on how U.S. schools teach — or, rather, don’t teach — students about the history of slavery in the United States:

  • Only 8 percent of U.S. high school seniors could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War.
  • 68 percent of the surveyed students did not know that slavery formally ended only with an amendment to the Constitution.
  • Only 22 percent of the students could correctly identify how provisions in the Constitution gave advantages to slaveholders.
  • Only 44 percent of the students answered that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American Revolution.

These results are part of an unsettling new report titled “Teaching Hard History: American Slavery,” which was researched over the course of a year by the Teaching Tolerance project of the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center. The report includes results of surveys of U.S. high school seniors as well as social studies teachers in all grades — nationally representative of those populations — as well as an analysis of 15 state content standards, and a review of 10 popular U.S. history textbooks. The best textbook achieved a score of 70 percent against a rubric of what should be included in the study of American slavery; the average score was 46 percent.

So begins a Washington Post report by Valerie Strauss on how well the history of slavery is taught in U.S. high schools. You may read the rest of Strauss’ report here.

 

Sometimes the Records Tell Different Stories

23 Jan

The past is the past. History is what someone says about what happened in the past. Historians, and others, consult textual records, oral histories, non-textual records, and artifacts to find evidence of the past. Needless to say, persons writing about people, places, and things observe and/or record those things from their own perception and sources at hand, which might be their own eyes and ears. Thus, it is understandable that two people witnessing the same thing might have a different view of what they saw or heard. To some degree, this should be just common sense to everybody, but it is useful to be periodically reminded of this.

So begins Dr. Greg Bradsher’s essay at the National Archives site about sorting out records of the past that differ. You may read the entire essay here.

Historians and Burns’ The Vietnam War

9 Jan

WASHINGTON — Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s recent 18-hour PBS documentary on the Vietnam War was adored by critics (The New York Times, for example, said it would “break your heart and win your mind”). And judging by the numbers — some 34 million viewers total — audiences loved it, too.

But historians? Not so much, based on a lively weekend panel called “A Fateful Misunderstanding: A Discussion of the Film Documentary The Vietnam War” during the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

So begins Colleen Flaherty’s report on some historians’ discussion of the Burns’ and Novick Vietnam documentary. You may read the entire report here.

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