Thursday, February 24, 2011

History of the Public

I don't get it.  How can a 450-page book entitled America: A History of the United States (Volume 2: Since 1865) not even mention the Wright Brothers?  How can it spend just four pages discussing the space program, with only one of those pages related to the space program during the Kennedy administration?  How can it not mention Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African-American to achieve world recognition and make a living by writing, and why does it not spend more than one paragraph discussing the Harlem Renaissance? 

Why are we so content to be fed only political and economic history, and yet accept it as the whole of history?

Despite this, I myself powered through, hoping that someday, in some undergraduate or graduate history class, I'd find those gems.  That is, what did politics and economics have to do with people like me, living their everyday lives, in the United States?  I think this is where the true treasures of history lie, and we cannot keep forcing students to learn nothing more than political ideologies, while forgetting about the stuff of real life.  I'm not saying that there isn't a place for political history.  There is.  But I think a more well-rounded approach to the study of history is absolutely necessary.

Because honestly, what the Wright Brothers did at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and at Huffman Prairie in 1905, affects my life much more profoundly than does some obscure political battle during an election year.  Not only that, read a novel by John Steinbeck, and I think you'll get a lot more useful information on what life was like for many people in the 1930s than you would if you read pages 248-279 in the textbook.

We probably need to be more well-rounded in general, anyway.  These days, everything is STEM, STEM, STEM...Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.  That's where we need to focus so that other industrialized countries don't continue to outpace us.  But where will we be left if we can no longer identify those other countries on a map?  If we can't express our feelings about where technology is taking us?  If we can't leave incredible, creative marks to define every era of our culture?  Leave one thing behind, and you open the door for a lot of mess.

History cannot be fully understood without a nod to everything that was happening: political, economic, cultural, right down to the simple, everyday actions of the American citizen.  And humanity cannot be fully understood without taking into account everything that makes us human.

1 comment:

  1. You might enjoy a book I read a couple of months ago - American Dreams: The United States since 1945 by H. W. Brands. It's not from a university press, but the author is a history professor at U. of Texas. He threw in a lot of interesting things about every day life, like how the invention of air conditioning pumped life back into the South.
    I agree with you about more well-rounded history or well-rounded education in general. I understand the importance of those STEM subjects but I hate that teachers often steal from social studies classes to cover the things that are "more important" (according to the testing systems).
    And just as an anecdote: I once overheard a Wright State student walking on campus say to her friend: "Just where is Missouri anyway?" I don't think they should let you into college without at least a basic understanding of where all the states are! lol