History Needs New Heroes


History Needs New Heroes recognizes those who are all too often forgotten in our teaching of the past to promote a more equitable and inclusive educational environment for students and citizens alike.

What does it mean to be an American Hero?

Notions of American heroism have dominated our mindset from the very beginning of the nation.  Heroism comes with the ideals of American exceptionalism. While it is easy for most Americans to use the word in conversation, what does it actually mean to be an American hero?  For many textbooks, a white-male-centric definition of hero dominates the narrative.

This project recognizes that not all heroes have to be white and male.  It recognizes that there are many people who have made a difference throughout history, who remain invisible from the national and educational landscape. This project defines an American Hero as someone who puts others needs before their own and has had a lasting cultural and social impact on the lives of Americans.  While this could include white politicians who made a difference on the foreign and domestic policies over the years, it focuses more on the everyday Americans who fought directly and faithfully for the justice of their community and society.

Project History

History Needs New Heroes (HNNH) was launched in February 2019 in fulfillment of the author’s Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities at Northeastern University. The original prototype of HNNH centered around a study of those who are mentioned and forgotten in three high school US history textbooks from 1945 to the present. Re-launched in April 2021, HNNH was expanded to build space for future research, explore diverse stories of history’s heroes, and examine methods for teaching beyond the textbook. 

About the Author

Megan Barney is a digital public historian and a staunch advocate for a more inclusive teaching of the past. She works in the intersections between public history and formal education, and has spent the better part of her early career thinking critically about what it means to teach beyond the textbook and use history as a tool to engage upstanders in the present. Megan holds a B.A. in History and American Studies from Elmira College and an M.A. in Public History with a Certificate in Digital Humanities from Northeastern University.

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