Learning American History from the Textbooks

Learning American history from the textbooks may sometimes be rather misleading, as they might not tell the truth about the historical events. On the one hand, certain scholars claim that modern American History textbooks rather present an ideological version of the historical events than a true narration of the past. On the contrary, these scholars cannot deny the fact that there are certain traceable patterns according to which the history is written. Howard Zinn writes that history “conceals conflicts of interests between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex” (3). The details of the conflicts, which are not favorable for the reputation of the conquering party, are hardly ever told to people. It is important to politicians and scholars to preserve a certain generally accepted image of a nation, making the history a useful tool in this process. If one pays attention to the history of conquests and occupation of new lands, one can notice that all the great victories of conquering nations are presented as significant events, and the situation of the conquered people are rarely taken into account.

One can understand it by the example of the Aztec civilization, destroyed by the Spanish. The Aztecs presented an ethnic group, which over time was defined by scientists as a separate civilization with its hierarchy, culture, and society organization. The civilization lived from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century in the lands of central Mexico and formed a major empire. The basic principles of Aztec society were a well-defined vertical social scale, clear distinction of duties among men and women, the institution of slavery, and the ritual human sacrifice. Mainly due to the latter peculiarity of the Aztec civilization, the Spanish considered them to be cruel savages. However, their information was grossly exaggerated. The Spanish viewed the Aztecs as bloodthirsty tribe, but in the history of the humanity, they left their mark as a rich and prospered civilization with a complex organization, quick development, and rich culture. While the Spanish scholars claim that they conquered a tribe, the historians of the world agree that the Spanish destroyed a society, having turned the Aztecs into their colony. Therefore, one can find the proof of Menchasa’s words that “Spain and the United States used their legal systems to confer social and economic privileges upon white and discriminate against people of color” (3). Having conquered the Aztecs, the Spanish took the best territories and relocated the indigenous people into larger towns in order to rule them more effectively.

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One can notice the same tendency in the historical records of Columbus’ journey. Nowadays, his discovery and conquest of the Native Americans is the reason of celebration. However, the details of the establishment of the New World at the American territory are often not mentioned. It does not happen because they are insignificant, but because they are rather distressing, running counter the generally accepted ideology. Only particular scientists bring up the question of almost complete genocide of Native Americans during Columbus’ discovery of new lands. For example, the scholar Howard Zinn emphasizes the general concealing of the truth about the certain episodes of American history in the favor of patriotic idea (Frazier). However, he does not call the readers to rewrite it, but to learn from it in order to progress. Supporting his idea, Wade Frazier writes.

The past is the past, and we can do nothing about it except learn from it, and perhaps try healing some of the damage that our ancestors inflicted, such as treating the remnants of the native tribes a lot better, even giving back some of the land that our ancestors murderously stole from theirs.

The humanity can progress if it acknowledges the past with all its achievements and failures. Otherwise, it is condemned for the repeating of the same mistakes.
History is a good teacher. If one traces back the history of many indigenous peoples, which were later discriminated, one can make a conclusion that those ethnic groups tend to preserve their national identity more than other nationalities. National and cultural identity plays a vital role in the establishment of a personality, and eventually, in the history of the nation.
Globalization, which takes place nowadays, makes people borrow the traditions, rituals, and peculiarities of other cultures. It separates the people from their origin and history. The development of a person in terms of spirituality begins when people start to feel their uniqueness, and when the connection with their past is never lost. The issue of national authenticity is of special importance for the American multicultural society. The key to the successful development of a society lies not in the blending of all nationalities, and forcing them to lose their peculiarities and become unique nation with an artificial history, but in creating a rich multinational society, which respects the authenticity of every individual. “The day we unmake that national holiday and replace it with one for native remembrance, for instance, (and maybe give some land back) will be an important one for our progress as a people” (Frazier).

To make a conclusion, the understanding of history of both American and Mexican American people, is impossible without learning all the details of their past. The scholars, who try to reveal the truth about all the historical events, and accept the failures and the victories of all the nations, can change our society. The way to prospering of society is in the acknowledging of one’s mistakes, being honest to the predecessors and descendants.

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Works Cited

Frazier, Wane. Columbus, The Original American Hero. February, 2014. Web. 20 September 2014.
Menchaca, Martha. Recovering History, Constructing Race: The Indian, Black, and White Roots of Mexican Americans. University of Texas Press, 2010. Print.
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States: 1492–Present. New York: Perennial Classics, 2003. Print.