History Book Analysis

History Book Analysis

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Chapter 1 Handicapped by History

Brief Summary
As the first chapter in this long analytical book, chapter one serves as the foundation for the rest of the novel, with a basic premise that “history textbooks make fool out of the students.” It shows how portrayal of historical figures and events in the best light for the reputation of United States leads to biased and distorted historical education.

Author’s Viewpoint
Loewen uses two examples—Helen Keller and Woodrow Wilson—in order to illustrate his point, and I would like to focus on the latter for this analysis. Loewen states that while Woodrow Wilson is often presented as the founder of League of Nations following World War I and the leader of progressive causes like women’s suffrage, textbooks rarely make any reference to racial segregation of federal government and his military interventions in foreign nations (22). Wilson intervened in countries like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua, and, which set up dictatorship in those nations, but surprisingly documentary evidences only emphasize his role in withdrawing the troops, which sounds ironic considering that he “wasn’t” the one who put the troops in at the first place (25). Instead, textbooks portray his intentions as building up friendship or take a step further and blame the invaded nations themselves (24). Next argument that Loewen makes is that Wilson was a racist who effectively closed the Democratic Party to African Americans, a fact that most of us are not aware of because textbooks either exclude such facts or imply that the president had no other choice but to enforce segregation policies for the best interest of the nation (29).

Analysis on American Pageant
Our textbook does indeed lie about Wilson’s policy, Clearly his purpose of sending troops to Haiti and other foreign countries was to determine their president and set up treaty preferential to US, but in our books, it says “In 1915, Wilson RELUCTANTLY dispatched marines to protect” to quell disorders in Haiti, and he proposed to provide US supervision of finances and the police (710); by describing that way, we as readers cannot sense the evil intentions behind the US policies. I was also surprised to see that textbooks limited details of invasions to only Dominican Republic and Haiti, even though nations like Nicaragua and Cuba were involved too during the Wilson era (they were just marked on a map, that’s all). In Loewen’s book, he said that Thomas Bailey, the author of our textbook, knew about 1918 US invasion of Russia (as he wrote in a different venue), but again, Bailey didn’t include such fact in American Pageant.

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Why hide facts from the public? Finally, American Pageant does not bother to mention anything regarding Wilson’s racial stance in the entire chapter about Wilson. He did have racial prejudice as Loewen mentioned, but leaving such information out creates a big hole in the study of history.

Chapter 2 1493

Brief Summary
Chapter Two discusses the Pre Columbian Americas and Columbus’s discovery of the new world, and shows how much our society is deceived by inaccurate portrayals of the man in the textbooks.

Author’s Viewpoint
Columbus is one of the most admired figures in the American history. He is one of the two people the US honors by the name of national holiday, and thus textbooks “make up all kinds of details to tell a better story and humanize Columbus” (38). Well first of all, contrary to the preconceptions, Columbus didn’t discover the Americas. Many historians suggest that Europeans may already have been fishing off Newfoundland in the 1480’s, and that whites and blacks may already have come to the Americas way before Columbus, considering that Indians were able depict in a masterly way the head of a Negro or of a white person without missing a single racial characteristic (39, 42). Sometimes, authors invent facts to add to the melodramatic effect. For example, texts say that he was ignorant of his accomplishments even though he perfectly knew that they were the reasons why Spain supported his voyages (57). Finally, textbooks can exclude facts that may damage Columbus’s reputation. For example, he cut Indian ears and noses, rewarded his men with native women, and forced tax from the Indians, but textbooks never mentions them (61, 65).

Analysis on American Pageant
Well, American Pageant starts off by relating Columbus to founding the new nation, even though the term NEW is a misnomer (how can it be new if so many other people knew about it from pre Columbian times?) (1). Our book, unlike the other books that Loewen mentioned, didn’t contain up to 8 pages covering Columbus. Instead it had only three, so apparently information was lacking; there was even no room for melodramatic effect that Loewen associated the textbook authors with. In page 14, it is said that Columbus discovered and shipped new plants like tobacco, maize, beans, and tomatoes and new animals like cattle, swine, but it doesn’t show any form of Indian involvement in helping the Europeans. How were they able to manage such exotic fauna and flora so well? Finally, although the book talks about the European diseases’ decreasing Indian population tremendously—it gets credit for doing so—it doesn’t even mention Columbus’s raping and torturing the natives. American Pageant did not devote much to this topic about Columbus.

Chapter 3 The Truth about the first Thanksgiving

Brief Summary
Chapter 3 basically is written in order to take the students out of the misconception about the Thanksgiving feast and many other events associated with the first contact between natives and Europeans.

Author’s Viewpoint
When we think about Thanksgiving, we picture Pilgrims settling at Plymouth on their Mayflower. However, of the 102 people on the ship, only 35 were Pilgrims, so it doesn’t seem just that textbooks generalize the description of the crew (87). Also, the destination that the Mayflower was originally planning to take is still a controversy, but textbooks simply pick one among two or more of the possibilities and present it as a fact, for exposing students to historical controversy is a taboo (87). In many of the textbooks, the first encounter between the whites and Indians is described in very simple terms; Pilgrims came, and they prospered with the help of natives like Squanto (78). But why? Texts basically forget to mention that disease was the biggest reason that Indians allied with the Europeans; in the case of Wampanoags, they wanted European power to protect themselves from Narragansetts to the West (82). It doesn’t make sense how a textbook can exclude the cause of such a historical event. Finally, although quite trivial to point out, textbooks associate Thanksgiving celebration with Pilgrims, even though they had nothing to do with it; Abraham Lincoln declared it the national holiday in 1890 to muster patriotism during Civil War(95).

Analysis on American Pageant
Like other textbooks, American Pageant makes the mistake of generalizing the constituents of Mayflower, for it refers to the group as “A group of the Separatist in Holland” and in descriptions throughout, doesn’t even hint that the majority of the groups were non-Pilgrims (43). And about the destination; American Pageant said the settlers chose Plymouth Bay after undertaking a number of preliminary surveys (43). As if the authors already knew of the controversial nature of this topic, they didn’t mindlessly state one of the many different possibilities as if it were the fact. There is another part of our textbook that deserves credit for. Unlike other books that almost disregard the reason Indians helped out the Europeans, Pageant mentions specifically that disease made them too weak to resist English incursion (51). Unfortunately, the book makes a mistake again because it associates the first Thanksgiving with the first successful harvest of Wampanoag Indians and Europeans, even though the Thanksgiving Celebration that we now know has to be credited to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War Era (51).

Chapter 4 Red Eyes

Brief Summary
This chapter is basically about portraying Native Americans as primitives and failing to give them credit for their highly sophisticated ways of life and influence to the world.

Author’s Viewpoint
Textbooks tend to portray Native Americans on a bad light. They often say that Indian life in North America was less advanced (103). However, Indians indeed do deserve credit for positively influencing the society. The Native ideas of liberty, fraternity and equality found their way to Europe to influence social philosophers like Thomas More, Locke, Montesquieu, etc, and consequently to Jefferson and other prominent American figures. Textbooks usually do not give credit to them (111). Even the word origins; words like Mississippi, hurricane, okay, and skunk came from Native Americans, but most of the textbooks do not even discuss the derivation (113). Lastly, Loewen pointed out how Native Americans are often disregarded in textbooks regardless of their contributions. Their roles are described in minimum or even excluded in wars like French and Indian War, and when describing the Louisiana Purchase, Natives are not even given credit for being the owners of the territory (121,123).

Analysis on American Pageant
Now finally, the final part of this summer assignment! There were no reference about Thomas More and Montesquieu on the index, but there were two paragraphs on John Locke’s theory; unfortunately, with no reference to the theory’s basis on Indian principles. Neither in sections about Jefferson’s Articles of Confederation (173) and Declaration of Independence were the Indians credited (147-148). I will now discuss more concrete topics. In the section about the Louisiana Purchase, there was this sentence “If America had drifted into a full blown war with France in 1800, Napoleon would not have sold Louisiana to Jefferson on any terms n 1803.” This sounds like Louisiana was France’s land, while in fact the Indians owned it. In the section about French and Indian War, unlike what Loewen said, it was obvious that Indians were involved. The book mentions Iroquois’s helping spread British War effort and Braddock encountering French and INDIAN army (111,112). Even the name of the war shows that Indians were involved, so we know that Indians took part, but it is indeed true that their contributions were written to minimum. Except for the two details I mentioned, rest of the account was mostly about English-French desires and conflict.

Overall, I realized that Loewen’s criticisms were almost always correct, but there indeed were materials that American Pageant thoroughly covered and gets credit for.
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