Kim Phuc Visits Brooks

Brooks’ History Department is hosting all-school speaker Kim Phuc tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Chapel. Ms. Phuc was a nine-year-old girl living in Vietnam when a napalm bombing changed her life on June 8, 1972. She was captured in a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph as she ran from the bombing site with third degree burns over half her body.

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Faculty Honors

I am honored to call Leigh Perkins (seated to the left) and Susanna Waters (seated to the right) friends and colleagues. Susanna, who chairs the history dept., and Leigh who teaches in the English dept. were both presented two of the six prestigious faculty endowed chairs in chapel today. This is an endowed position one holds while on faculty. Further, it is the highest honor one can receive. Mucho awesome!

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History Department Gathering

I have long valued being a good colleague; I am pretty much the YES person when someone in my department (or in another one) needs help and support. I have found that good colleagues and friends have done the same for me. When I arrived at my last school in Houston, I pushed to have dept gatherings — be it at the beginning, middle, or end of the year. Holiday gatherings have always been a favorite. We are hosting a history department dinner tonight. It should be fun.

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Brooks History Dept.

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A group of us from the history department gathered to have drinks and chat a bit with the year now coming to an end. It has been a very good year; in some respects — a strange one too. We are still adjusting, but those things take time. I have marked all of my bluebook exams and research papers. The only thing left for me now is to write student comments. I would like to wish my colleague Geoff well as he ventures to the Trinity Vally School.

Race, Class, and Gender in American History

I first encountered this subject while reading an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In sense, it states that:

The report by the National Association of Scholars and its affiliate, the Texas Association of Scholars, examined the textbooks and other readings for 85 sections of lower-division American history courses at the two schools in fall 2010. All too often, the report concluded, the readings gave students “a less-than-comprehensive picture of U.S. history,” with the situation “far more problematic” at UT than at A&M.

The article goes on and contends that:

At UT, 78 percent of the faculty members who taught the freshman and sophomore classes were deemed “high assigners” of race, class and gender readings, meaning that more than half of the content had such a focus. At A&M, 50 percent of faculty members were deemed high assigners of such material.

This topic is problematic it that it is being advanced by the National Association of Scholars, which is a conservative watchdog group that monitors the actions of educational institutions. My issue with this topic is one of suspicion: Why point out and criticize key categorical arguments used to analyze historical problems in American history? I realize they are saying schools assign too much work on race, class, and gender, but they fail to discuss the reasons why we historians do this. The United States has evolved, however, the process of evolution has faced a great deal of resistance.

The study of United States history is ugly. Discriminated racial minorities, voiceless and impoverished homeless, as well as exploited women were all change agents in helping progressive academics rethink the teaching of U.S. History.

I think back to two excellent quotes that define what is most troubling about this topic. James Baldwin once noted:

What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors.

W.E.B. Du Bois draws an excellent conclusion regarding the teaching of American history by referencing…

One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only remember that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner … and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.

Their recommendations below are most troubling. It appears that the one and only dominate figure in US history seeks a return to the center stage: White Anglo-Saxon Protestant men (WASP).

The National Association of Scholars offered 10 recommendations for improving American history offerings:

1. History departments should review existing curricula, eliminate inappropriate overemphases, and repair gaps and underemphases.

2. Administrators or governing boards should convene an external review if history departments are unwilling.

3. Hire faculty members with a broader range of research interests.

4. Ensure that survey and introductory courses give comprehensive overviews.

5. History department members should collaborate to develop lists of readings that students are expected to study.

6. Design courses that contribute to a robust, evenhanded and reasonably complete curriculum.

7. Diversify graduate programs to ensure that they don’t unduly emphasize race, class and gender themes.

8. Other states should enact laws similar to the Texas requirement that students complete two courses in American history, but better accountability is needed to ensure that colleges’ teaching lines up with legal provisions.

9. Publishers should publish textbooks and anthologies that more adequately represent the full range of U.S. history.

10. Historians and professors of U.S. history should counter mission creep by returning to their primary task of handing down the American story, as a whole, to future generations.