History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teachings of the Past



"A deeply informed, balanced, and compelling book." --Los Angeles Times

In History on Trial, authors Gary B. Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn examine the controversy and criticism over how our nation's history should be taught, culminating in the debate about National History Standards. The book chronicles a media war spearheaded by conservatives from National Endowment for the Humanities veteran Lynne Cheney ...

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"A deeply informed, balanced, and compelling book." --Los Angeles Times

In History on Trial, authors Gary B. Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn examine the controversy and criticism over how our nation's history should be taught, culminating in the debate about National History Standards. The book chronicles a media war spearheaded by conservatives from National Endowment for the Humanities veteran Lynne Cheney to Rush Limbaugh, posing questions with regard to history as it relates to national identity. What, the authors ask, is our objective in teaching history to children? Is the role of schools, textbooks, and museums to instill patriotism? Do we revise and reinterpret the past to tell stories that reflect present-day values? If so, who should articulate these values? Wonderfully clear, timely in its intentions, History on Trial provides a thoughtful account of the ways in which Americans have, since the beginning of the Republic, perceived and argued about our past.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Brightly written and solidly researched...a model of good scholarship."—The Christian Science Monitor

"A stunning book...compelling drama quickly and unexpectedly takes over."  —St. Louis Post- Dispatch

"Fascinating...eloquent...a service to the nation's history teachers."—The Nation

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Why is America seemingly bedeviled by competing versions of history? What is history, and how should it be taught? These contentious questions are at the center of History on Trial. After an overview of how the teaching of American history has evolved, the authors recount the development of the National History Standards, a three-year project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and chaired by Nash, professor of history at UCLA. In October 1994, just as the standards were to be published, NEH chair Lynne Cheney wrote a scathingly critical op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal charging that, far from improving history education, the standards distorted history. The attack was soon taken up by other critics and eventually carried to Congress. Here, the authors present a spirited defense of a broad, inclusionary view, and their discussion of traditionalists' emphasis on facts versus a modern approach stressing empathy is especially illuminating. However, they undercut their argument, and their claim to dispassionate objectivity, with ad hominem attacks on traditionalists; "conservative" or "right wing" are frequently used as though they were sufficient to settle the argument. Moreover, the account teeters between broad generalization and the minutiae of committees, organizations and agencies. Regardless of one's own views, the final impression is of a great deal of energy expended not on education, historical research, or even cultural debate, but wasted on political turf wars. If there's a hopeful sign, it may be the observation that "authoritarian states don't have history wars, but democracies frequently do." Eight illustrations. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Three meticulous observers explore who decides what history gets taught to high-school students, with close attention to the current controversy over multiculturalism.

When Lynne Cheney was head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, her organization funded a large and ambitious project to develop national standards for the study of history in high schools. Nash (History/UCLA), Crabtree (Education/UCLA), and Dunn (History/San Diego State Univ.) were all closely associated with the attempt to formulate a coherent, representative model of what "American high school students should understand about American and world history." But when the study appeared in 1994, Cheney was the first to vilify it publicly as an exercise in political correctness. Crabtree, Nash, and Dunn delve deeply and lucidly into the background of this highly contentious, highly politicized affair (high-school history as a patriotic indoctrination into an unchanging national essence vs. high-school history as a way of learning to make critical differentiations about thorny, mutable issues). In addition, they show that the debate about what kind of history should be learned in school has always been contentious and acrimonious.The authors—who staunchly defend the national standards they helped to establish, as well as the concept of history as a distinct discipline—also clarify the often aloof relationship between practicing historians in universities and the teachers of history in high schools. Finally, the authors deliver sensible, judicious, nuanced discussions of buzzwords (multiculturalism, Afrocentrism, identity politics) that have become confusing, and discuss the now loaded idea of Western civilization.

A provocative, detailed, and illuminating explanation of how we got into the so-called "culture wars" and what is at stake in them. Essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the relationship between history as an intellectual discipline and as a subject in school.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679767503
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 689,802
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary B. Nash teaches American history at UCLA. Charlotte Crabtree taught curriculum studies at UCLA for over 30 years. Ross E. Dunn is Professor of History ar San Diego State University.
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Table of Contents

Abbreviations 2
Ch. 1 In the Matter of History 3
Ch. 2 Hallowed History, New History 25
Ch. 3 Postwar Paradoxes 53
Ch. 4 Years of Ferment 75
Ch. 5 History, Culture, and Politics 98
Ch. 6 History Wars Abroad 128
Ch. 7 Setting National History Standards 149
Ch. 8 The Right-Wing Assault 188
Ch. 9 Inside the Beltway 223
Ch. 10 Lessons from the History War 259
Notes 279
Index 307
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