What is the most efficient way to tell the story of an historical moment, and why may that not be the most effective way to tell that story?
Human beings tend to—and have always tended to—organize and simplify the complexities of the world around them into binaries (good/evil, right wrong, us/them, black/white, patriot/traitor, occident/orient, etc.). How does the representation of historical narratives in textbooks as a conflict between “heroes” and “villains” reflect this tendency?
“History is written by the victors”—an axiomatic statement that is often attributed to Winston Churchill. Implicit in this widely accepted idea is the notion that history is composed exclusively of winners and losers, heroes and villains. What does this implication say about how textbooks are written (i.e., written by heroes)?
To what extent are history textbooks more mimesis (or verisimilitude) than delineation? If textbooks are indeed more mimetic than “accurate,” then should one engage with textbooks from an aesthetic perspective? In other words, are historical narratives more “narrative” than “history?”
In fiction, antagonism can be individualized (e.g., human vs. human) or abstract (e.g., human vs. nature). How different would a Social Studies textbook look if it were written with abstract “villains” (i.e., systemic tendencies) rather than individualized ones (e.g., Hitler)?
Potential assignment: rewrite a subsection of your textbook (about a “villain”) in a manner that abstracts the characterization of evil.
There is a tendency to construct history as a “clash of titans” (e.g., Hitler v. Churchill), but it is the average citizens of the times that enact the policies—or are enacted upon by the policies—of those in positions of power (e.g., Joe Axis v. Joe Ally or Joe SS v. Joe Jewish). These historical characters—the “every-people”—are as captivating as the power-players, as the our ongoing fascination with Anne Frank’s diaries testifies. Why do our textbooks value the object narratives of historical overview rather than the subjective perspectives of individuals who experienced these historical milieus?
What is the function of propaganda, and in what way does that function parallel the historical narratives in a textbook?
(created by Aaron Thacker, 2018)