Not Written in Stone: Learning and Unlearning American History Through 200 Years of Textbooks

Kyle Ward, New Press (Perseus, dist.), $22.50 paper (304p) ISBN 9781595581440
Ward wants students to understand history in layers, and offers a historiography illuminating the biases of over four centuries of American historical reporting by looking at textbooks from the last 200 years. Texts in 1832, for instance, referred to the Native American as a savage who was "in general governed by his passions, without much restraint from the authority of his chiefs," a man who is "remarkably hospitable to strangers," but will "revenge an injury whenever an opportunity offers, as long as he lives." But by the late 19th century, Native Americans were "Noble Savages" to be admired for their simpler lifestyle: "The Indian men loved to fight, for they sometimes felt like tigers"; however, when they tired of fighting, "they would sometimes become good friends, as we white people do." Ward groups texts by subject and lays them out chronologically, illuminating sweeping evolutions in historic scholarship and thought. History is often mistaken as a fixed narrative, but with careful research and composition, Ward reveals significant ways in which historians were influenced by the spirit of their time. (June)
Reviewed on: 09/20/2010
Release date: 05/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
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