My daughter attends the honors college at ASU. I was predictably thrilled, when she informed me of her intention to enroll in HST 109, for the spring semester. HST 109, is entitled The United States to 1865. The description: “Growth of the Republic from colonial times through the Civil War period.” Eons ago, I believe I took this course, or perhaps the one after it. Anyway, I was pretty excited that she’d be taking a course we could talk about. I mean, maybe she’d even get some interesting text books and things to review for WWTFT. My imagination went wild with the possibilities.
And then, my wife interjected with a cold dose of reality. She began looking at the reading list for the course. Remember, this is a 100-level course, designed to fulfill a “historical awareness” credit. A semester is a pretty short period of time in which to cover a couple hundred years of history, after all.
Here is the list of books stipulated to cover this time period:
In perusing the reviews of these books and reading the bios of the authors, one thing jumps out. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. All of these authors appear to be very agenda-driven and left-wing, to boot.
The first book in the list might be okay, although it seems strange that a survey course of this kind, would choose to focus on a very specific topic, as does Peace Came in the Form of a Woman – Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands. I’ve not read the book, or in fact any of the books in the list. However, I have read a fair number of books covering the time period that this course purports to cover. This book evidently (based on several reviews) sets out to show the importance of gender for understanding the Texas borderlands. It also seeks to show that Indians dominated politically in the early colonies. These are very specific theses and are definitely controversial when applied broadly. It seems odd to focus on edge issues like this in an introductory course.
Similarly, Woody Holton’s, Forced Founders, has it’s own axe to grind, getting into an interesting topic, but one requiring a little more background before presenting it as factual history. I’ve not read this one either, but Holton is known as a historian who favors a neo-progressive viewpoint. In his book, he apparently suggests that the intellectual elite were forced into action by the mood of the unwashed masses. There is certainly something to this point of view, and it comes out in Radicalism of the American Revolution, American Insurgents – American Patriots, Ethan Allen – His Life and Times, and numerous other books. But Holton’s book has been criticized as having an agenda and for being polemical. It might be an interesting book to debate alternative viewpoints, but doesn’t belong in survey course.
The last two books in the list were written by Eric Foner. Foner is a far left historian with a distinguished Marxist pedigree. He is the nephew of Philip S. Foner – a communist, plagiarist historian. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, at least with regard to political views. Here is a quote which illustrates how he views the world:
I also imbibed a way of thinking about the past in which visionaries and underdogs—Tom Paine, Wendell Phillips, Eugene V. Debs, and W. E. B. Du Bois—were as central to the historical drama as presidents and captains of industry, and how a commitment to social justice could infuse one’s attitudes towards the past.
History does not change based on our beliefs. Our ability to see the events of the past is, of course, colored by our perspectives, but the reality of what happened, and why, is not affected by our attitudes.
There are so many good books about this time period, that it’s a shame that a course designed to introduce a fascinating time period couldn’t have included a few of them. I guess it could be worse, at least there were none by Howard Zinn. Nevertheless, my daughter has opted to find a different course.