Clio, the muse of history, is as thoroughly infected with lies as a street whore with syphilis.

Why the hell is our nation’s history in dispute? Why are we so ignorant about some basic historical facts? Maybe the answer is that it is boring—or at least, taught in a boring way. A bunch of dates we are made to memorize. But the other answer is, we are taught lies. Sometimes these lies are little white lies –like Washington and the Cherry Tree. But sometimes they are Big Lies.

Here’s one example of a Big Lie: The Thanksgiving story. The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock to escape religious persecution. But during the Salem Witch Trials they executed a couple of Quakers and  a year later, another Quaker named Mary Dyer was executed and a fourth was hung in 1661 –simply for the crime of being a Quaker. They left that part out of the Thanksgiving Story, didn’t they? We don’t talk about this when we discuss America as a so-called “Christian nation” and the Puritans coming for freedom of religion. That meant their religion not anyone else’s.

When I was a kid in California’s public school system, we spent a good deal of time in the 4th grade on the California missions– set up by the Spanish Franciscan Friars led by Father Junipero Serra.  (I can recite that by heart.) We were taught that the Spanish missions were the civilizing force in early California and the brave Friars converted the heathen Native Americans (then called Indians). The settlers introduced European livestock, fruits, vegetables, and a work ethic into the California region. The Friars were kindly and beloved by the Indians.

Today, the Social Studies program for the fourth grade is more nuanced; it includes: “the major nations of California Indians, their geographic distribution, economic activities, legends, and religious beliefs; and how they depended upon, adapted to and modified the physical environment by cultivation of land and sea resources.”

Better, but not history from the perspective of the indigenous Californians. And nothing was mentioned as to why the Spaniards wanted to set up the missions (to control Spain’s holdings in the New World, to make converts and tax paying citizens of the people they conquered, and to prevent colonization of the Russians.)

As they say, history is written by the victors. Or as Dick Gregory famously said, “We used to root for the Indians against the cavalry, because we didn’t think it was fair in the history books that when the cavalry won it was a great victory, and when the Indians won it was a massacre.” We hide our history when the truth is ugly. We like to paint a picture of that that makes history tidy and acceptable. But our history isn’t tidy or bloodless. And it certainly isn’t boring.

Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.  ~African Proverb

I have been thinking a lot about history. It’s a subject I love, but am not very proficient in, although I’ve read my fair share of history books, ever since I discovered one of my favorite historians, Barbara Tuchman. But the topic of history—especially the way history becomes history—has come to the forefront with the Texas Schoolbook Massacre.

Actually, I became aware of historical revisionism way before that—I think it was in the late sixties. And not all revisionism is bad. As shown with the teaching about California Missions, it appears children in my state are now learning about the Native Americans to a greater extent. But that begs the question: What is historical fact? Who decides?

History seems self-eveident: The Allies won the Second World War. War history is easy enough though, unless you are a Holocaust denier. How is Holocaust denial even possible? Why can’t everyone at least agree on a fact? And if they do agree that the Holocaust occurred, they still deny the number of victims.

There are dozens of examples where basic history—and I’m talking about recorded history, not even ancient accounts—is in dispute. A few months ago, in preparation for writing a blog here about the Arab-Israeli conflict, I wanted to check on some general facts about the creation of the State of Israel. Depending on my source, I read that a.) The Arabs fled Israel after the United Nations declaration or b.) The Arabs were forcibly exiled. The 1967 Six Day War was a.) A defensive response by Israel or b.) A preemptive war or even a war of aggression.

Revisionist History– Good and Bad

Patriotism ruins history. ~~ Goethe

Thomas Jefferson has recently become an example of revisionist history in valid and invalid ways. People accept that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and served as the third president of the United States. Those are FACTS. But another fact is that Jefferson had a slave mistress named Sally Hemings, with whom he fathered children. Despite people’s discomfort with that nugget of information, DNA evidence in the late 1990s confirmed it was true. So what did that discovery mean for revisionist historians?

  • Considering the evidence from a social or theoretical perspective allowed scholars of African-American history to draw interpretations about the earliest interactions between blacks and whites in the United States.
  • From a fact-checking perspective, the evidence of the affair and the offspring was enough to merit exploration of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship in new biographical accounts of Jefferson.
  • Until DNA evidence proved the Jefferson-Hemings affair, skeptics who held the negative perspective maintained that the claim was false revisionist history meant to sully the Founding Father’s legacy.

The same revisionism is seen regarding Alexander Hamilton (my high school’s namesake). Federalism today is front-page news. Federalism is a founding principle and aspiration of American society. The cry of states’ rights has come to mean something quite different today from how it was originally intended; it has returned to political debate. But states ’ rights does not begin to capture the real essence of federalism.

Take Dick Armey—PLEASE!  Recently, someone in the audience asked Armey: How can the Federalist Papers be an inspiration for the tea party, when their principal author, Alexander Hamilton, “was widely regarded then and now as an advocate of a strong central government”?

“Historian” Armey was flummoxed by this new information. “Widely regarded by whom?” he challenged, suspiciously. “Today’s modern ill-informed political science professors? … I just doubt that was the case in fact about Hamilton.” Alas, for Armey, it was the case. Hamilton favored a national bank, presidents and senators who served for life and state governors appointed by the president.

I can understand (but not condone) how American history could be taught in other countries from their historical perspective, but as a nation, we are debating something that we all should have been taught in high school. More about teaching history in a minute.

The Scholarship of History

Scholars try to make sense of the era they are analyzing through primary source materials—oral histories, maps, letters and diaries, newspapers (including ads and political cartoons), even popular songs and other arts. The task of the historian is more complicated than that of simply reporting what the records say. At the very least, the records that survive for most periods of history are both incomplete and often contradictory, and the historian therefore has to try, somehow, to address those gaps and contradictions. That is, he or she has to act as an interpreter.

Just as I want journalists to report events without their personal bias, I want the same from historians. But complete objectivity is nearly impossible since history rarely takes the form of a continuous, chronological narrative, and events don’t happen always in perfect sequence, all tidy-like. One thing influences another, and sometimes in surprising ways. (It reminds me of an amazing series on PBS many years ago, called “Connections,” with science historian James Burke. He would show how some obscure discovery, like the creation of a loom card led to the computer. )

Archeology, anthropology, forensic science and other disciplines all contribute to revising history in the most basic sense of correcting facts. Documents may become declassified, Deep Throat comes forward. Whenever new facts are unveiled, they alter — and hopefully enhance — our understanding of past events.

But updating history isn’t always as simple as adding in a couple of sentences here and there in textbooks as newsworthy events take place. First, scholars and researchers develop new historical theses and theories that they publish. Then, academics, teachers and textbook authors meet in conferences to compile recommendations for which of the new facts should be included in upcoming textbook editions. They also analyze current textbooks for accuracy and tone. The Institute for International Textbook Research, for example, analyzes the language of the text and the diversity of topics covered to ensure that they aren’t skewed toward particular races, genders or cultures.

How History is Taught

The Great Depression is another hot topic today, for obvious reasons. Understanding the causes and the responses are critical to us, yet here again is  another example of our inability to agree on our own history. I have heard Right Wing legislators say that FDR both caused the Great Depression and prolonged it!

In a 2005 study, two researchers set out to examine how language shapes knowledge in history. Specifically, the authors looked at how the language used in history textbooks influenced the study of causality, that is, the link between particular actions and specific outcomes. They discovered that some textbooks that set out to explain cause and effect contained wording that might prevent students from understanding the causes of events.

One example they looked at was how the Great Depression was taught in a tenth-grade textbook. They looked for linguistic patterns that might help students draw a connection between cause and effect. They identified two kinds of passages: accounts and explanations. An account was defined as a chronological narrative in which cause and effect emerge as a natural sequence of events, while an explanation frames events in an organized way, highlighting the key factors students should focus on.

The texts relied heavily on abstract nouns, failed to use explicit language linking cause and effect, and frequently employed the passive voice in describing events. Consequently, both passages created the impression that the course of history was somehow inevitable. While the Great Depression text did focus on causes, it used overly abstract language. Phrases like “economic overproduction” and “lessening demand” held little meaning for students trying to connect certain actions with specific actors.

As the researchers explained, the word “because,” can help students draw a direct link between cause and effect. Well, DUH! Unfortunately, the texts focused on “what happened,” but stopped short of establishing why it happened. It obscured causality.

Here’s how the textbook section on the Great Depression obscures causality:

In the late 1920s, the world economy was like a delicately balanced house of cards. The key card that held up the rest was American economic prosperity. . . . The rising productivity led to enormous profits. However, this new wealth was not evenly distributed.

While the passage does offer specific causes for the Great Depression, it creates the impression that these events were logical and automatic instead of the result of human actions. The use of passive voice (“new wealth was not evenly distributed”) disguises how individual actions led the U.S to economic disaster, and never questions how such an outcome could have been avoided.

Here is a pfd of a current and widely used textbook discussing FDR and the Great Depression. See what you think.

Or this, about FDR, from the site US

A country without a memory is a country of madmen.
~~George Santayana

We are living history right now, every day. I worry about how our current events will be written in the future. Will Bush be able to go down in history as the bumbling idiot he is? Or will history be written by Cheney and Rove?

I wish that there was some way to ensure that the history we learn is accurate and inclusive; that we could learn the “truth.” In Robert Heinlein’s 1961 masterpiece, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” there are “Fair Witnesses. ” A Fair Witness is someone trained to observe events and report exactly what he or she sees and hears, making no extrapolations or assumptions. In Heinlein’s society, a Fair Witness is a highly reputable source of information.  But that was science fiction. ~sigh~

If “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” we are doomed, period.


To read about the politicization of how history is taught:

History Standards Then and Now

Senate Testimony on History textbooks:

Pdf: UNESCO Textbook Guide on Revisions

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Maybe we should rename this era, The Disinformation Age.

Despite all the info available on the internet from so many sources, there seems to be an unapologetic, solipsistic mentality by those who feel sufficiently self-righteous that they are beyond needing a conscience over lying.

The ends justify the means. Winning politically outweighs honesty and the truth.

We are simultaneously an advanced society and one that is mired in selfishness as old as humanity.


That little bit on the Thanksgiving myth reminded me of this:

KQµårk 死神

Excellent excellent piece Cher. I got a minor in history just for my love of the subject. History should be factual and students should be taught the major themes throughout history rather than focusing on specific events and dates in my opinion. Sure there are watershed events in history but judicial decisions, key legislation and civil movements have shaped our history more than wars.

I was lucky to have a very liberal revisionist history that focused much more on civil movements than anything else. I guess going to high school in the mid 70’s after all the civil movements of the 60’s molded the curriculum I learned. I can only imagine how the Reagan greed is good movement has molded the curriculum high school kids are learning today. I hear younger right wingers posting how the founding fathers formed this country based on capitalism, not on individual liberty and civic responsibility. I think the bottom line is what students learn about in history class has a hell of allot more to do with societal attitudes in the present than what actually happened in our history.


Good points on how the recent present molds our view on the past.

And totally, dates can become important, but not if all else is lost. Wars are very important, but undoubtedly get more attention to the detriment of other factors. Same goes with the hidden history of the common and poorer classes. Better to begin with themes and patterns and move on and beyond that deeper.

History is often taught to lose the forest for the trees.

Just take a look at one of those timelines of world history sometime. How much is truly lost when in learning American history we barely mention what’s going on in Europe, and the rest of the world? America just didn’t happen in a vacuum.

KQµårk 死神

Exactly my favorite American centered view is that America won WWII. Yes and No. Our production capacity won the war but Britain beat the Axis powers on the Western front by winning the Battle of Brittan and the Russians won the Eastern front after winning the Battle of Stalingrad. These events happened just as we were starting to send troops to Europe. Yes America did win the war in the Pacific and supplied Brittan but when America entered the European theater the allies already won the way. I don’t want to minimize Americas involvement too much because if we did not become involved the Soviets would have invaded all Europe. So in a way America’s involvement in WWII and occupation of Europe afterward won the cold war.


The problem with history or any subject, for that matter is it is regurgitated(sorry for that word) by the person who writes it. It has always been my challenge on the Bible. It all comes down to interpretation and the person who writes – wins. Unless somelike you comes along and finds facts and figures that challenge that fact. In alot of cases, the person will still stick to their story even if shown the facts.

I think there has always been this idea that our country was founded out of persecution by the British and because of that we could never have done the same things during our history, we were just trying to bring civilization(whatever that is) to the masses. It is romanticized because it is easier than facing the truth – we brought that persecution with us from a distand land.


Kudos on Schopenhauer and Goethe. And yes – I can’t remember what expert I read, but it came to the same observation I have. History is so hard to pin down especially in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that even historians aren’t entirely sure what happened. It’s mind-boggling. It wasn’t that long ago! There’s some areas of agreement on events, not how they transpired. And then there’s two different histories that don’t even agree on events! (Nakba, etc).

Have we ever talked about “Connections”? If not, strange you would bring that up because the show is nerd-GA-smic – ever so literally! It encapsulated why I love history and why it matters!!! Even the smallest of things!

Ugh, why Foldables


My point exactly, Khirad. “Pinning it down” implies a narrative, ostensibly to make sense of the past and to predict the future.

In addition, historical catch phrases and catch words like “lessening demand” only lend credibility to what may be grossly inaccurate stories; thereby turning what may be yarns into technical accounts.


The fundamental problem is when history isn’t treated as a science, and made to fit into narratives — especially those that fit the goals of a government or flatter a peoples’ conceits, as Zinn and Chomsky point out. And even with them, they could be seen as fitting history and events to their view. But, we know this outright with them (and IMO they happen to have a better handle on history).

History textbooks are problematic not for what they contain, but how they are packaged and what they are purported to represent. There is no sticker at the beginning telling the reader to beware of opinions or just rampant inane vacuousness and the celebration of rugged individualism


Historians all too often try to fit “facts” into a narrative. I don’t know whether history always follows a story line, as anathema as that may be to Conservatives.

Since humans tend to be meaning making machines, there is a strong inclination to not only find meanings to make stories but then also have those stories have meanings.


I knew Jefferson was a Naturalistic Pantheist, but I didn’t know all that stuff about Hamilton. Presidents should be elected for life and appoint state governors. What a joke! I think a lot of the tea bag partiers need to get a life (pun intended).


In Japan, it seems like every year there is a new scandal with the approval system for textbooks. Some right wing group puts out another book that denies the Massacre of Nanjing, and glosses up the “The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”. It gets approved by conservatives in the Ministry of Education that think it’s more important to instill pride and dignity in the nation’s children than to tell them what really happened, and China and Korea express outrage. It’s Texas writ large.


Indeed. Japan is one of the greatest offenders. Seems like they’ve moved on in so many ways, but never really actually dealt with their past, like Germany.


Blame the old fogies in the LDP who ruled almost unbroken since 1955 for not allowing the truth to be printed in text books for all this time, believing that with all the access to information on the internet, people wouldn’t seek out the truth for themselves. Talk about ostriches.

As I predicted when Hatoyama won, trouble in paradise.


From your past descriptions, and those polled, there doesn’t even appear to be a lesser evil.

And oh yeah, of course, I mean the leaders who could take a proactive role, not the whole Japanese populace.


Excellent, Cher.

First off, I would recommend to everyone Howard Zinn’s A people’s history of the United States.

Second, if you really want to get ruffled over Thanksgiving (which I, and many other people of native descent, don’t celebrate), here is the historical account from the native perspective (true account, from all that I’ve been able to read):
The Real Story of Thanksgiving

The teaching of history at the High School level is a corrupt mix of politics and the publishing market. Texas, for example, has undue influence over the national publishing market because it buys so many books. And, of course, the publishers want to produce what Texas will purchase. So books full of half-truths, non-truths, and jingoistic nonsense are written up for profits’ sake, and because they’re already in print, they spread around the country like a bad virus.

Once someone gets to college, things change. Professors’ reputations are on the line, and truth becomes more important than fiction. Which is why it’s a good idea to make college free for everyone.

KQµårk 死神

The reality is we have a very liberal history, meaning liberals throughout our history have won and been proven to be in the right more often than not. In the more liberal NE there was just not the manipulation of history I’ve seen in since moving down South because liberals don’t have to change history to put liberal ideas in a more positive light.


Maybe I’m naive, but I believe that eventually the truth does come out but you have to search for that truth a lot of times.

For instance, Custer was always portrayed as a hero of sorts until recent years, when history documents that he was narcissistic and arrogant and not very liked.

A visit to Little Big Horn and other forts along the way depict Custer in an unflattering light, which was not always the case.

As for the missionaries and their treatment of American Natives – a visit to New Mexico and the pueblos explain the Indians having to conform to Christianity publicly, forcing them to hold secret sacred ceremonies and when they were discovered they were beaten and flogged by the religious men who came to save their ‘heathen’ souls.

And then in Arizona are the sad stories of the Navajos, Pimas and other native tribes who were forced from their families and forced to learn English and dress like white American children and if they did not comply, the children were beaten.

Fortunately, the Indians are trying to teach their children today the old language and ways of their people, but it’s difficult since the kids for the most part have lost interest.

There have been numerous documentaries that have shown the internment of the Japanese Americans during WWII and the Japanese Americans who volunteered for the war to prove their loyalty.

And then some of the Japanese American military were taken to the camps to recruit fellow Japanese Americans, since the military was desperate for men, and the Japanese Americans spit on them and regarded them as traitors.

And then there’s the stories about African Americans and their treatment during WWII and after.

Try as they might to gloss over our history, I do believe the truth eventually comes to light, and hopefully, people, especially younger people will strive to find the truth as they mature.

I love history, too, but the truth is out there and I agree with you, Cher, in that our history is not taught accurately or honestly in our schools.

That’s where higher education comes in – you know, when kids go to those ‘liberal’ universities.

Great article again, Cher, and thought-provoking.


Have you ever been to the Heard Museum, javaz?

Near Indian School Rd (of course).

And indeed, I’ve been to those pueblos, notably Taos, and know that part about secret ceremonies, too.

As to Cher’s, I never grew up in Cali but I know Serra’s name, as well. I can imagine he was to their textbooks as Lewis & Clark were to mine. I’ve been to five or six missions, and even a couple of the bigger ones’ museums mention less flattering stuff, though it’s still a gloss and the Amerindians were grateful, of course.


Oh yes, of course, I’ve been to the Heard Museum, Khirad, as I am very interested in Native Americans and their history.
(my great, great grandmother on my father’s side was an Indian but from Canada – the great, great grandfather came over from Paris, was a fur-trapper and married an Indian from Ottawa)

Did you know that they uncovered an entire village near Washington St. near the airport?
It’s an awesome thing to walk around that’s located in the middle of a bustling city.

And have you ever been to Casa Grande? That’s in between you and I and that’s another awesome ruin to visit.

Where we live – on the foothills of the Superstition Mountains – are ruins and The Hieroglyphic Trails, which are actually petroglyphs, but there are ponds there and they are sacred with the carvings surrounding them.
And I love it – because they are not far from our home.

There are ruins there that are similar to Montezuma’s Castle, but not as popular, and you can actually walk through the ruins.

Ever been to Canyon de Chelly?

That is definitely one of my favorite places to visit and the Navajos even have a radio station in their language.

I love the history of our state, but the current day politics – not at all.

I do love living here though even with all the creepy-crawlies and rattlesnakes – you have to appreciate nature and respect it – but then again, we’re rural, so we have an entirely different perspective.


I’ve been to the ruins and seen ’em, but it was closed. You can see it from pretty far away, too. The Hohokam were one of the more impressive settled, and building Amerindian peoples. A lot of the canals around the Phoenix area I heard were originally Akimel O


Khirad, there is a trading post – the real deal – on the way to Canyon De Chelly – and you must stop there.

The actual trading post sells a super hot sauce if you like hot sauce, but the thing to see is the ranger’s station because it’s loaded with books, DVDs and T-shirts, but it’s a wealth of knowledge.

Canyon De Chelly is so gorgeous and we camped there, and the Navajos have a wonderful campground and it’s free.

You just drive from spot to spot and you can take horses down if you’re into that or take a jeep ride with guides.

We didn’t do any of that as we had our dog and couldn’t leave him at the campground as he can put up quite the fuss, plus it was dry-camping and that part on the Navajo Nation was hot.

Thunderstorms roll through that area frequently at certain points and it is awesome.

Monument Valley isn’t all that far from there, and if you are going out during vacation and have the time, you should go on into Utah and visit the Grande Arches.

That is such a beautiful part of the west.

We’ve traveled New Mexico extensively as our daughter moved there, and have you ever been Lincoln City where Billy the Kid roamed?

That is the real deal when it comes to the buildings and the glass in the buildings is from that era as you can see the imperfections.

And near there is Capitan, which is also worth stopping to see as it is the original home and burial place of the very first Smoky Bear.