A historian's call to make the celebration of America's past more honest.
American public historyin magazines and books, television documentaries, and museumstends to celebrate its subject at all costs, even to the point of denial and distortion. This does us a great disservice, argues William Hogeland in Inventing American History. Looking at details glossed over in three examples of public historythe Alexander Hamilton revival, tributes to Pete Seeger and William F. Buckley, and the Constitution Center in PhiladelphiaHogeland considers what we lose when history is written to conform to political aims. Questioning the resurrection, by both neocons and the left, of Alexander Hamilton as the founder of the American financial systemif not of the American dream itselfHogeland delves deeply into Hamilton's brutal treatment of working-class entrepreneurs. And debunking recent hagiographies of Pete Seeger and William F. Buckley, Hogeland deftly parses Seeger's embrace of communism and Buckley's unreconstructed views on race.
Hogeland then turns his attention to the U. S. Constitution Center in Philadelphia (the location of Barack Obama's speech on race), comparing its one-note celebration of the document to the National Park Service tours of nearby Independence Hall. The Park Service tours don't advance any particular point of view, but by being almost purely informative with a kind of hands-on detail, they make the past come to life, available for both celebration and criticism. We should be able to respect the Constitution without being forced to our knees before it, Hogeland argues; we can handle the truth about the Framers' intense politicking and compromises. Only when we can ground our public history in the gritty events of the day, embracing its contradictions and difficulties, will we be able to learn from it.
About the Author
William Hogeland is author of The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America's Newfound Sovereignty. He lives in New York City.
What People are Saying About This
For William Hogeland, thinking about history is an act of moral inquiry and high citizenship. A searching and original voice.Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland
For William Hogeland, thinking about history is an act of moral inquiry and high citizenship. A searching and original voice. Rick Perlstein , author of Nixonland
For William Hogeland, thinking about history is an act of moral inquiry and high citizenship. A searching and original voice.