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Can National History Be De-Provincialized? U.S. History Textbook Controversies in the 1940s and 1990s

  • Author(s): Bender, Thomas
  • et al.
Abstract

Thomas Bender’s 2009 essay “Can National History Be De-Provincialized? U.S. History Textbook Controversies in the 1940s and 1990s,” originally published in Contexts: The Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society, asks the important question of how a nation-specific curriculum in history—that is, how “American” history itself—can be taught with the least influence of political factions and the least interference of commercial factors, in light of the fact that both elements, the political and the commercial, have played a role in the construction of the US history textbook. Bender’s essay demonstrates the complexity of the problem as multiple stakeholders seek to control, limit, or promote particular elements of the narratives of US history. Professional historians, Bender argues, like history itself, have “no responsibility to supply comfort”—that is, no role in promoting nationalism or American exceptionalism—yet he also warns that, due to changes in the textbook industry, they also may have little role in determining what is finally published. Bender’s essay, which specifically discusses the impact of political conditions—World War II, for example—on the daily practice of teaching and writing about history, serves as an insightful reminder of the complexity and vulnerability of a nation’s memory.

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