History Needs New Heroes
Data and Methods

Data and Methods


According to the National University Library System, 85% of the K-12 textbook industry in the United States is dominated by Pearson Education, Inc., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill Education. (“Common Core Resources: Textbook and Publisher Resources”) For this reason, a recently published textbook from each of these publishers was used to collect the data. Each textbook was acquired through Interlibrary Loan at Northeastern University. Upon acquisition, each textbook was scanned using the book scanner at the Boston Public Library.  Pages scanned included the introductory pages and the chapters that included chapters covering history from 1945 to the present.

Textbook Citations

Appleby, Joyce, Alan Brinkley, Albert S. Broussard, James M. McPherson, and Donald A. Richie, United States: History & Geography. Columbus: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.

Danzer, Gerald, J. Jorge Klor de Alva, Larry S. Krieger, Louis E. Wilson, and Nancy Woloch. The Americans. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Lapsansky-Werner, Emma J., Peter B. Levy, Randy Roberts, and Alan Taylor. United States History. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2016.

Data Collection

Frequency Data

The main goal in data collection was to document each person who was mentioned in the textbook by frequency.  Every time a person is mentioned, their name is added to a spreadsheet organized by book. Other location information collected in the frequency spreadsheet included chapter, section, and heading. When documenting mentions throughout the chapters, instances only account for a time that a name was mentioned in reference to the person themselves.  When looking at Harry S. Truman, for example, instances such as him, his, Harry S. Truman, Truman, the President, and this Missouri senator were counted in the data. Instances such as the Truman Administration, however, were not counted because this alludes to a much larger group of people.


  • Name: Indicator for the person mentioned throughout the text.
  • Heading: Location indicator for the specific location of the mention  within the section and chapter.
  • Section: Location indicator for the specific event or time the person is mentioned within the chapter.
  • Chapter: Location indicator for the overarching time period in which the person is mentioned.

Occurrence Data

After the frequency spreadsheet was collected for each textbook, each sheet was copied to create occurrence data.  Occurrence data includes a record of each person mentioned in the textbook, in order to document data like gender, race, country affiliation, and role. A number of mentions column was added later to make frequency data easier to read. This data is more useful in understanding the textbook and is easier to read. This data is what allows for visualizations to be made for each textbook.  


  • Name: Indicator for the person mentioned throughout the text.
  • Gender: Indicator for male or female people mentioned throughout the text.
  • Race: Indicator used only to measure the breakdown of different people mentioned from the United States. **Race is a socially constructed concept, and Western notions of race cannot be applied to other places around the world. Those who are not affiliated with the United States are listed by their nationality under the race category.
  • Country Affiliation: Indicator for the country a person is working for or the general place a person is working. **This was not used for any purposes of visualizations in the ending case study evaluations.
  • Role: Indicator to understand what professions people have and what different aspects of society people are involved in.
  • Number of Mentions: Measure to understand who gets mentioned the most throughout the textbook. **Data for this column comes from the frequency data sheets.

Role Definitions

  • Activist: A person who is a leader of protest, rights, and/or reform movements.
  • Artist: A person who produces works in any of the arts.
  • Astronaut: A person engaged in or trained for spaceflight.
  • Athlete: A person who is a participant in a sport, exercise, or game in a professional capacity.
  • Criminal: A person guilty of a crime in any form.
  • Doctor: A person licensed to practice medicine.
  • Entertainer: A professional singer, comedian, actor, or actress.
  • Entrepreneur: A person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business.
  • Government: A person who is involved in politics at any level of government. It includes, but is not limited to, political leaders of countries, political or civil leaders of state or local government, legislative members, or judiciary members.
  • Inventor: A person who discovers a new process, machine, et cetera.
  • Journalist: A person who is in the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news.
  • Lawyer: A person who is not affiliated with the government who represents clients in a court of law.
  • Military: A person who works for any branch of the armed forces.
  • Philanthropist: A person who supports human welfare and advancement through the donations of large sums of money.
  • Religious Leader: A person who leads religious movements and revivals throughout the United States.
  • Scientist: A person whose expertise is in science and has produced groundbreaking research for the benefit of medicine or foreign policy.
  • Victim: A person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency.
  • Writer: A person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, et cetera.
  • N/A: Not available

**Many of these definitions come directly from the dictionary.


The majority of the visualizations made of this dataset were created by an open-source online platform called Datawrapper. The technology itself only reads numbers, so in order to create nice and efficient visualizations, a new and simple spreadsheet was added for the program to read.  It included gender and gender count, race and race count, role and role count, and name and number of mentions. All of this was taken directly from the Occurrence data sheet solely for the purposes of visualization.

Another open-source tool called Raw was used for the “A Closer Look” visualization. This tool would read data made up of words and did not require numbers. For the purposes of this visualization, I took out all of the people not affiliated with the United States.

  • People by Name: Each bar graph represents the top 20 people mentioned in each respective textbook. The top 20 is based on number of mentions. If there are two or three names that are mentioned the same amount, then each name is included. Some visualizations have more than 20 people shown in the visualization.
  • People by Gender: Each donut chart represents the breakdown between male and female people mentioned in each textbook.
  • People by Race: Each donut chart represents the breakdown between race for each American mentioned throughout each textbook. The data in the chart reflects only names from the United States.
  • People by Role: Each donut chart represents the breakdown for each role for ever occurrence within the textbook. The charts are restricted to 10 slices for clarity and ease of reading. The “other” category represents all the less mentioned roles in the data sets.
  • A Closer Look: Each sunburst visualization represents a more intersectional breakdown of the data. The data in this chart reflects only names from the United States.

Tools Used

Sources and Relevant Reading

“About Us.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019.

“About Us.” McGraw Hill Education. 2019.

Auut Studio. #PlainTalkHistory. 2019.

Bigelow, Bill. A People’s History For The Classroom. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools, Ltd., 2008.

“Common Core Resources: Textbook & Publisher Resources.” National University Library System. 2019.

Bigelow, Bill. “Racial/Gender Injustice Project.” Rethinking Schools. 2000.

Conway, Michael. “The Problem With History Classes.” The Atlantic. March 16, 2015.

Digest of Education Statistics. “Minimum Amount of Instruction Time Per Year and Policy on Textbook Selection, by State.” National Center for Education Statistics.

“Discover the Women of the Hall.” National Women’s Hall of Fame. 2019.Editors of Salem Press. American Heroes. 3 volumes. Pasadena: Salem Press, Inc., 2009.

Fishwick, Marshall W. American Heroes: Myth and Reality. Washington D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1954.

Frail, T.A. “The 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.” Smithsonian Magazine. November 17, 2014.

“Hero.” Merriam-Webster.

Lepore, Jill. These Truths: The History of the United States. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2018.

Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: The New Press, 2018.

Maurer, Elizabeth L., Jeanette Patrick, Lielse M. Britto, Henry Millar. “Where are the Women? A Report on the Status of Women in the United States Social Studies Standards.” National Women’s History Museum. 2017.

Olivio, Antonio. “Informed Opinions on Today’s Topics: The Qualities That Make an American Hero.” Los Angeles Times. June 13, 1995.

Teaching Tolerance. “Teaching Hard History: American Slavery.” Southern Poverty Law Center. 2018.

“The Little Guide to Pearson.” Pearson Education, Inc. PDF.

Wineburg, Sam. Why Learn History When its Already on Your Phone? Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018.

Wong, Alia. “History Class and the Fictions About Race in America.” The Atlantic. October 21, 2015.

Wong, Alia. “How History Classes Helped Create a ‘Post-Truth’ America.” The Atlantic. August 2, 2018.

Zimmerman, Jonathan. Whose America? Culture Wars in Public Schools. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1980.