Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Rude Awakening: Shedding some light on "History"

I'm ashamed to admit that until recently (maybe the last 5+ years) I've really come to the reality that history is not what we think it was.  I think I really thought that what the history books say has to be true, especially if they're textbooks meant to educate young Americans in public schools.  I picked up an audio course by a professor at the University of Vermont called, "Rethinking Our Past: Recognizing Facts, Fictions, and Lies" taught by James W. Loewen (author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your History Textbook Got Wrong).  Loewen goes through American history and speaks to a lot of these untruths that are commonly believed and seems to have pretty strong evidence and even goes as far to discuss why these lies became popular belief, what was in it for those who created the fiction.

History is nothing but our take on what we believe happened based on fragments of evidence we've come across.  Some of that evidence is pretty strong in some cases, but we can't know for sure if we didn't live and weren't actively involved in that piece of history.  Take for example Columbus.  We're taught that a lot of the people around that time believed that the earth was flat and that they might sail off the edge!  That belief didn't come around until 300+ years after Columbus and was first introduced in a fantasy book by Washington Irving (the guy who wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow) - The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.  Somehow people liked what he wrote and believed it (the book was a fictional biography of Christopher Columbus). One thing Loewen obviously doesn't address is the fact that Columbus was led to Americas by God for the purpose of establishing these continents again.  1492 was of no real significance because others had landed across the sea as well, it was his voyage in 1493 when he took over the island of Hispanola and the whole Columbian Exchange began that was probably the Lord's purpose in bringing him here.

Loewen next discusses our beliefs surrounding Thanksgiving. With regards to the "Pilgrims," they weren't even called Pilgrims until after Pres. Lincoln instituted Thanksgiving as a Holiday and they only received that name to make their voyage sound much more pleasing to our ears.  They left from Holland (where they already enjoyed religious freedom), and their main goal was to reach Virginia to share in the economic wealth that they heard about existed, they just missed and ended up somewhere else (Plymouth Rock isn't where they landed either.)  I'm only a few minutes into this lecture, so I'm sure I will have more to share later.

Obviously my telling you this information isn't going to change what you believe, some of you will want facts and proof.  If you care enough about knowing you'll find out for yourself, in the mean time I'll keep sharing.


Lindsay said...

The study of history is incredibly subjective -- one person's experience of a particular instance can be vastly different than someone else's, and it's not an easy task for historians to piece everything together into something "authoritative." I think that the history that is taught in the schools is often rushed (because, really, no matter the era, there's always more to cover than there is time to do it in), and consequently a lot is glossed over and eventually little myths start to develop. When studying history, I think people need to pick what texts and authors they read carefully in order to get a broader picture of the event that happened. But all that said, history is a fascinating subject -- even with the "lies" (which I don't really consider lies. Perhaps not the entire truth, but "lie" comes across as too harsh, I think). The misinterpretations of history are as much a part of the history as what actually happened.

Officer Leeroy said...

That's a good point, that the misinterpretations are just as much a part of history. I think that should be emphasized more in teaching, how much history really is subjective, instead of teaching it as the gospel truth.