When we read history books of the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure – there is no bloodshed and Columbus Day is a celebration. History is the investigation of the event that surfaced in the past periods (Zinn, 1995, p.19) as Edmund Morgan writes in his account of early Virginia, American Slavery, and American Freedom. History is significant, and it is dominant in the manner in which it approaches past events and communicates them in a language that people at present can relate with and visualize. As a carefully crafted narration of events, facts, figures and details, history amasses together information aimed at promoting a specific ideology or worldview.
Apart from understanding the past and heritage, the reason why we study history is that it gives a voice to the people whose voice has initially been suppressed or oppressed. The journal, however, undoes the brainwashing that schoolchildren are taught in schools. So that in telling history, there is a need to accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia (p.15). Studying history helps in the understanding of the birth of the country and the founding figures including Christopher Columbus who discovered America and proved that the earth was not flat. History helps in the understanding of early explorers such as the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts who five hundred years ago invaded the Indian settlement in the Americas (p.39).
History unveils exciting events such as the controversies that exist such as slavery, pilgrims, and racism. History helps to learn mysteries that would have otherwise never have been known. Getting to learn about people without written language but who had laws of their own and passing on such knowledge to future generations ensures continuity of heritage and knowledge of society. Zinn submits that the though natives were people without a written language their policies, poetry and ‘their history kept in memory and passed on, in an oral vocabulary more complex than Europe’s, accompanied by song, dance, and ceremonial drama’ ((p.27).
From history, we get to learn that Columbus made inventions and discoveries. He was excited about the gold earrings some of which the Arawaks wore. Slavery of the blacks was real. As John Burgess referred to Black Reconstruction, he pointed out that “In place of government by the most intelligent and virtuous part of the people for the benefit of the governed here was a government by the most ignorant and vicious part of the population. . . A black skin means membership in a race of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason; has never, therefore, created civilization of any kind’ (p.188)
The discipline of History complicates matters even more by presenting facts in a manner by which it presents its persuasion to the general acceptance. History has been confined to a few individuals who are seen as heroes of the nation and without whom the nation would not have made any kind of progress. The author says that, the treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)—the quiet consent of conquest and murder in the name of progress, is the one of the aspects ‘ of a certain approach to history, in which the past’ is narrated from the point of view of regimes, diplomats, conquerors, and leaders (p.15). It is as if they, like Columbus, had a right to universal acceptance as if they were “Founding Fathers just like Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Kennedy, Roosevelt, the leading members of Congress, or the famous Justices of the Supreme Court—represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there is such a thing as ‘the United States,’ subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests’ opines Zinn (p.15).
The readings and studies in this class have opened my eyes to a new reality that history is at times biased. Through the readings and studies, I have come to embrace a holistic view when studying history and instead of being biased and looking at one side of the story, I ought to look at the whole story holistically. By suggesting that when studying history, people tend to skim over the bad parts and as such, our histories begin to lose their value as “incentive and example.” WEB Dubois means that history is biased towards celebrating the successes of figureheads of the past while skipping and eliminating their faults. In so doing, it casts forth a picture of people who did exploits but were without setbacks and faultless which is indeed false.
W.E.B. DuBois downplays the prevalent falsehood of historians in their approach towards history especially now that at some point, they keep editorializing. Children in the United States are made to believe that certain figureheads were forces to reckon with. In the study of history, it appears that evil is forgotten, distorted or skimmed over. While studying history, people are required to remember that characters such as Daniel Webster were a great constitutional lawyer, but on the other hand, they should not see him as a drunkard. Personalities such as George Washington are only remembered for the incredible things they did and not how he was a slave owner. History just portrays perfection and excellence in people and nations and not the faults and in doing so, it lacks integrity.
- Zinn, Howard (1995). A People’s History of America. New York, New York, USA. HarperCollins Publishers.