We look to the past to tell us who we are, where we are, and how we got here from there. History is identity, and thus it is contested terrain. Whose story is going to be told, and who is going to do the telling?
The American narrative – the history of who we are, where we've been, and what it all may mean – has been evolving in its written form for some four hundred years. The dominant and privileged narrative has been one of freedom, abundance, progress, and triumph. This is the narrative that defines popular memory of the epic events of American history: westward expansion and the settlement of the continent; the Revolution and the founding of the Republic; the Civil War; and, increasingly, World War II as the ultimate expression of American power and idealism.
The work of American historians in the 20th century has progressively challenged this view. The history of the historians has undermined what Lincoln called “the dogmas of the quiet past.” The evolving narrative has become darker, more complex, and reveals profound disparities between ideals and realities. It challenges those who believe there is only one national narrative and only one version of the American experience.
[...] Franklin's electric rod smote the earth and out sprang George Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod, and henceforward these two conducted all policy negotiations, legislatures, and Thomas Jefferson, for his part, regarded Adams as impossible. hates Franklin, he hates Jay, he hates the French, he hates the English.” Rivalries and animosities among the Founders, accompanied by arguments over the character, meaning, and legacy of the Revolution fueled the bitter conflict between Federalists and Anti-Federalists, America's first political parties. [...]
[...] Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past, pp. 17-18; New York See, for example, David Ramsay, History of the Revolution in South Carolina and Jeremy Belknap, History of New Hampshire, 1784-1792. See, for example, Hezekiah Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America and Jared Sparks, Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, 1829-1830. George Bancroft, 1800-1891, author of History of the United States volumes, published 1834-1874. As Secretary of the Navy, he established the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Minister to Britain, 1846-1849; Minister to Prussia, 1867-1874. [...]
[...] It is also fair to say that the profession as a whole has failed to deal with the problem that it is not merely the that is at issue but also the When charges of “revisionism” were flung at historians during the 1990s history wars, the implication was that new interpretations were factitious, that recent work was not simply new but somehow “made The general public was more easily taken in by these slurs because historians still do not do a good job of explaining how they do what they do and how they have reached the conclusions they have. The Future of the Past Can the historian's history be the public's history? Popular memory of the American past is preoccupied with identity, with judgment, and with vindication, and the individual pursuit of this kind of understanding is shaped by age, class, race, ethnicity, gender, education, and personal experience. [...]
[...] Many of the most vital records were in distant English archives. Within the United States the necessary records remained largely in private hands or scattered through haphazard archival collections until well into the nineteenth century. Even when historians took the American Revolution its causes, heroes, and justification - as their subject, the focus remained local. Some source material at the local and state level could be found, and popular attachment to those communities had had a century and a half to develop whereas nation” was still an embryonic concept. [...]
[...] Framing the American Narrative We began with a need to justify why we were here. Our European ancestors were explaining why they had come, what they hoped to achieve, and what it all would mean, even as they waded ashore at Jamestown or Plymouth and confronted the dark, forbidding foreshore of a new world. The expectations of the new arrivals were conditioned by what they had left behind, the risks they had taken to get here, the hazards and sufferings of the journey. [...]
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