American Textbooks NEH Proposal Abstract

Abstract, NEH Proposal, Humanities Collections and Reference Resources

Accessing American History: The American History Textbook Project

Accessing American History: The American History Textbook Project will scan, digitize and encode 40 American history textbooks, published between 1900 and 1970, from the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Collection. Among this collection are some of the most widely read American history textbooks of the past century, influential in shaping generations of American students' understanding of their country's history, yet these texts have been largely forgotten, available to the public only by request. The aim of this project primarily is to make these works accessible to high school students as they learn to investigate their source material, determine bias, analyze language and word choices, and gain a greater understanding of the fluid nature of American history. These skills are vital to students’ growth as scholars, writers, and citizens. In a culture of high speed internet access anywhere, anytime, it is important for these young minds to understand where these ideas come from, who has the authority to disseminate them, and the construction process of turning facts into messages. With the textbook controversies of the modern era, notably in Texas as curriculum changes to reflect political posturing, students need to understand that history is susceptible to public opinion and always has more at stake than just a statement of facts. Allowing students to examine at length textbooks of the past helps them understand how constructions of American history have evolved over a relatively short period of time, while bringing a greater understanding of how different generations grasp their common history and how this affects their perception of what it means to be an American. In a country of rapidly shifting demographics, they will see how minority groups of the past have been treated in history, with prejudices often enshrined in the text. They will be able to search people, places, and events, but also terms and subjects, to see how historians have differed so radically in their interpretations of the same relatively small amount of facts. Lesson plans from high school history teachers will further guide them in these goals towards becoming more critical readers and writers.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License