I’ll never forget the moment in which I realized the history I was taught in high school was not accurate. I was sitting in a first-year course on the social movements of the 1960s at Elmira College. It was in that moment that I realized that countries around the world are criticized for everything they did wrong, but the United States could never admit to their own wrong doings. This was not because I had a bad social studies teacher. Actually, my US History teacher is the one who inspired me to pursue a degree in history in the first place! It was because the resources I was provided, namely the textbook and the curriculum it follows, is a narrow one-sided version of history.
Students of all backgrounds should be allowed to find someone they can relate to from history. They have no figures in the textbooks that serve to inspire them to be better people or accomplish their biggest dreams. Why does this happen? As this project finds, textbooks are still littered with narratives of power and dominance on behalf of white men. I can imagine it has gotten better over the years, but it is still a far cry away from a more inclusive past. While it is unfair to not talk about the contributions of our major political figures because their contribution to our historical landscape is important, what would it look like to teach a more a more inclusive past?
Take the image above, for example. Almost every person is unrecognizable, but deserves to be recognized as a significant American in their own right. Each person has broken the barriers of our society to become leaders in all facets of life. These are the people who students deserve to learn about in their everyday classes, not instead of but in addition to the others who are so commonly mentioned.
So why write and rewrite history’s heroes? Rewrite to keep the most commonly mentioned Americans in the historical narrative by understanding both the good and the bad of their accomplishments. This will not strip them of their importance but include a more accurate narrative of the past. Write to give the forgotten voices a place in our lessons of the past and to give kids someone to identify with and aspire to be.
Moving forward, this blog will exist to explore voices from the past. It will fill in the gaps of people that I missed during my own high school education and it will re-contextualize the white dominated narrative through exploring the most mentioned figures in a different light. Do you have an idea about a person whose story should be written or rewritten? Reach out to me via email or twitter!