Ask the Historians

This page is for history students and their parents. If your teacher has said something that doesn’t seem to pass the sniff test, send us a question. If you are just wondering what facts might have been kept from you on a sensitive subject like the Cold War, or the New Deal, or the nineteenth century “Robber Barons,” send us a question.

11 thoughts on “Q & A

  • Al,
    I’m new to this blog. Do you have any reviews or comments regarding of
    George Tindall and David Shi, America: A Narrative History?
    Thanks,
    Tim

  • What is wrong with Howard Zinn? I have read his “people’s history of america.” I wouldn’t say that the truth is anything but assisted with a leftist understanding of the history. But are the accounts not real? Read the very first account by the priest who watch the native on the islands of what is probably haiti today. They would tie the natives , who thought the europeans were gods at first, to trees, and cut of their hands, jeer at them, and kill them. There is real importance in remembering these events. Are you one of those people who believe in private property, the american dream, dont touch my stuff, the stuff i worked my whole life for, the stuff that sums me up, type of person? if so you are entitled to your opinion but it would make sense. if not i have a listening ear.

  • Honestly, what is going on in this website? Liberals don’t argue from truth and they just attack the one that makes the accusation? That’s funny, when I watched the democratic debate this year it seemed much more intellectual than the Republican debate. Also, in history, the left was always the underdog. Fighting to make things humane in a country was never easy. People died or were jailed for rallying against the norms or the ruler. Also, what’s funny is I am not surprised that this website is conservative. Both sides make mistakes (although I would say the conservative side makes more), but the liberal side rarely spends its time making trivial websites to harp strictly on the opposite end of the spectrum. Rather they rally on issues, not the pointlessness of the other side. Well I hues with social media I do see the harping, but not in the same way. Both wings are attached to the same bird.

  • Joanna,

    I’m not familiar with the textbook you mention, but it’s always best to take everything with a grain of salt. If you doubt what you’re reading and the subject is important to you, you can always do some research of your own.

    One resource you can use is the Search Field in this website. If you punch in a topic (e.g. “Joseph McCarthy”) you might find that I have already addressed the common biases of most history textbooks on that subject. And of course typing the subject into Google gives you a much wider world of sources.

    Regards,

    Al

  • How can I tell if my textbook is really credible? How can I tell if the information in the textbook being presented as facts is based on primary sources and not the authors who wrote the textbook. I know in most books there are footnotes at the bottom of the page and bibliographies in the back but my textbook doesn’t have one since it’s its own source. The book is America’s History Eighth Edition (for the AP course) by Henretta, Hinderaker, Edwards and Self. Thanks for taking the time to address my question.

  • As a history major I am appalled with how you are letting your biases inform others and distort history. Teaching history to others should include as little personal biases as possible. History does not belong to any political party alone. My fear is that your site will hurt history further as you write about it from a political agenda.

  • Great question, Alex.

    Certainly the worst of them is Howard Zinn’s book. Zinn always denied being a Communist Party member, but the posthumous release of his FBI file puts the lie to that. His “textbook” is anti-American, Anti-capitalist propaganda so over-stated that it’s downright embarrassing.

    I guess the second worst textbook is probably Eric Foner’s, although I’ve never really thought about it before.

    Certainly the least biased is America’s Promise; quite often it is the only textbook, of the seven I have, that will admit some bit of exculpatory evidence about some conservative or Republican the other textbooks are disparaging.

    I’m glad you asked this question. I should probably figure out some sort of rating system and write a column about it. Thanks for the idea!

  • Al,

    You keep giving examples of bias in the handful of textbooks you have collected. But you never say if one is different than another.

    Is the bias worse in some textbooks than in others? Or all they all the same degree of propaganda.

  • Al,

    No doubt, he was flawed. And I too, thought the comment was extemely well balanced with truth. I appreciate your assist on a response. Coming out of the conservative shell can be intimidating but being able to debate helps greatly and you’ve given me a good jump start.

    Thanks so much for your work, it is much enjoyed!

  • Thanks for the great question. This is a classic example of the difference between the conservatives and liberals, when it comes to debating about politics. Your liberal friend did not even try to argue that Henry Ford’s words on wealth and redistribution were not true. She took the shortcut that liberals almost always take when confronted with ideas or principles they don’t like; she attacked person who made the statement.

    We conservatives are usually more willing to debate ideas and principles on their merits. Liberals, for some reason, quite often refuse to debate the merits of an idea, and just disparage the person who brought it up.

    That Von Shirach quote could well be accurate, by the way. Henry Ford did have a nasty anti-Semitic streak, as did his friend Charles Lindberg. But that does not make Ford’s words about redistribution any less true. Ford said that we can’t cure all the world’s ills by taking money from one class and giving it to another, and all the evidence says he was right on that one. Since the 1960’s our government has forcibly transferred trillions (literally) of dollars from the people who earned it to people whom the government wanted to “help,” and we still have all the problems that these wealth transfers were supposed to solve.

    The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom always shows undeniably that those nations with the most Socialistic economic systems are the poorest, and vice-versa. It makes for rather dry reading, but the information is useful, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject.

    The great advantage of this attack-the-messenger tactic that liberals favor is that it is so easy. Rather than adduce facts and arguments to refute something a conservative has said, you can just point out that the conservative has this or that personal flaw, or has said something stupid at least once in his life. Somehow the words are to be considered invalid just because the person who spoke them is flawed. And who among us isn’t flawed in some way?

    Thomas Jefferson said “all men are created equal, (and) are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Are these words null and void because of Jefferson’s personal flaws? Jefferson did make some stupid and regrettable public statements during his eighty-three year life. Look, for example, at some of his comments about the French Revolution. Are the words “all men are created equal” somehow invalid because the same person made a few foolish statements years later?

    When Frederick Douglass was just eight years old, he was wiser than your liberal friend. He knew that important truths could come from the lips of a less-than-perfect person. In his powerful and fascinating book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he tells how he, as an eight year old slave, learned about the value of literacy. The woman who owned him had taught him how to read a few words, and when her husband found out about it, he angrily demanded that the teaching stop. Here is how Douglass quotes his then-master in the book: ‘”If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave.”‘ (1)

    Young Frederick Douglass did not think that these words were untrue, just because a cruel and unjust person had spoken them. “These words,” he said, “sank deep into my heart…From that moment, I knew the pathway from slavery to freedom.” He managed to learn to read despite the opposition of the man and woman who owned him. Then, literate, he proved the truth of his master’s words by working out an escape plan, and successfully putting it into practice.

    If you want to rebut your friend I suggest that you start by conceding her point about Henry Ford. He was a man with some deep personal flaws; there’s no use in denying it. Then you can ask her if she really believes that all the world’s ills can be cured by taking money from one class of people and giving it to another. If she says yes, you will have succeeded in starting a real debate.

    Al Fuller

    (1) Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, Oxford World’s Classics, p. 39

  • I recently posted a quote on my Facebook page. I typically stick to the founding fathers, but saw this one and thought it was a good one for my daily quote. “There are two Fools in this world. One is the millionaire who thinks by hoarding money he can accumulate real power, and the other is the penniless Reformer who thinks by taking money from one class and giving it to another, all the world’s ills will be cured.” ~Henry Ford.

    One of my Facebook Liberal friends posted this after it and quickly removed it.

    “Von Shirach, leader of the Hitler youth movement, declared at the post-war Nuremburg war crime trials he had become an anti-Semite at the age of seventeen after reading [Ford’s ravings.] “You have no idea what a great influence this book had on the thinking of German youth. […] The younger generation looked with envy to the symbols of success and prosperity like Henry Ford, and if he said the Jews were to blame, why naturally we believed him.””

    She is a college professor and is currently homeschooling her child. I’m looking for a rebuttal and having a difficult time locating something. Do you have anything in your archives?

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