Telling the Truth about Historyby Joyce Oldham Appleby, Margaret C. Jacob, Lynn A. Hunt
Pub. Date: 04/28/1994
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
/HUNT/JACOB/APPLEBY During the 20th century, the accuracy of historical knowledge has been eroded by fictionalized versions of events in films, novels, and self-serving critics. Here the authors call for a return to the historian's legitimate search governed by agree
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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This is a generally good overview of the various perspectives from which western history has been told and the paradigms through which it has been interpreted. Because it is an overview it does not go into tremendous depth about a lot of the subjects, but the book does not pretend to be an exhaustive explication of its various topics. While some critics have suggested that the book ignores various perspectives, the fact remains that it covers those that have actually had an impact on the discipline. Occasionally the authors make ideological leaps with which I disagree, nonetheless they achieve their overall goal of providing a relatively broad and thorough summary.
What is most surprising about ¿Telling the Truth about History¿ is that Appleby et al, attempt to include the postmodern, multicultural, and feminist perspectives as valid paradigms for historical inquiry. Appleby et al fail miserably in integrating these perspectives into the text. The majority of the text is, yet again, another grand historical narrative in which the intellectual ideas of white, presumably heterosexual, men are given priority and the most detailed attention. Apparently the intellectual ideas and lives of women, feminists, people of color, the poor, and those other than the elite intellectual class have fallen upon deaf ears. Appleby et al chide those who have in the past excluded the ¿others¿ but yet fail to include these others within their historical narrative. Appleby et al¿s treatment of racial minorities, sexual minorities, and those without hegemonic control of intellectual power structures is tokenistic at its best. Feminism is given a paragraph and queer theory is left out entirely. Any discussion of racial minorities and their ¿perspective¿ is lumped under the heading of multiculturalism and no where are ¿multicultural¿ authors given any specific mention by name. We are yet again asked to assume that the ¿others¿ are nameless, faceless, and unimportant. Yet again, we are asked to believe that history is the history of white heterosexual capitalist Eurocentric white men. Appleby et al maintain that, ¿What you don¿t know is especially hurtful, for it denies you the opportunity to deal with reality. It restricts choices by restricting information¿. (307). If this is so, when why is so much left out! Why is there no mention of the 19th century African-American women and their perspective on history? Why is there no mention of South American historians, Asian historians, Native American historians, the way the Maya and Incas and Nuer of Africa viewed history? Why is so much left out? Where are the Audre Lorde¿s, the Frantz Fanon¿s, the bell hooks¿, the Anna Julia Cooper¿s, the Claudia Card¿s, the Judith Butler¿s, the Barbara Smith¿s, the Cornel West¿s, the W.E.B. Du Bois¿, the Trin T Minh-ha¿s, the Gayatri Charkravorty Spivak¿s, the Patricia Hill Collins¿, the Gloria Anzaldua¿s, and the Wei Jingsheng¿s? They do exist; they do have a voice. I am sure that they are excluded because ¿History¿ as presented by this book is supposedly European enterprise, that no one else had anything significant to say about the past other than those who have been venerated as purveyors of the ¿historical truth¿. Martin Duberman, a historian at Lehman College states, ¿You cannot link arms under a univeralist banner when you can¿t find your own name on it. A minority identity may be contingent or incomplete, but that does not make it fabricated or needless. And cultural unity cannot be purchased at the cost of cultural erasure¿. It seems that Appleby et al wish for us to live under a univeralist banner of historical inquiry, in which, the belief in the historical narrative of the past is the best way to interpret and understand history, that political history, or the history of the powerful, and therefore of the important, is history. I think not.