Blog Post #4

While reading Caswell’s piece, what dawned upon me is just how selective history can be and how that selective history is more moreover socially constructed and imposed. I found the segment where she references the funding options that SAADA has to be especially disheartening. The fact that the government is not willing to fund projects, because they are not stories of the majority is a failure. It is due to their lack of support that minority cultures are largely exempt from history textbooks and educational materials. In turn, the absence of minority voices for so long has convinced minority communities that they’re stories are actually unimportant, which is certainly not the case.

Another thing that this piece brought to my mind is all of the things that are omitted from the majority’s history, beyond that of just minority voices. Up until recently, Christopher Columbus was always regarded as the founder of America when: one, there were plenty of other people here before him; two, he wasn’t the first nonindigenous person to discover it either; and three, he was just a generally horrible person all around. And even with that litany of imperfections, I’m sure history books still document him as a great man, which brings me to another point that the article raised for me. In most schools, science is regarded as the ever-changing discipline and therefore must have new books whenever possible, but history is considered constant when, in actuality, new discoveries in history are always being made. When confronted with that reality, the choice that society must consider is how to alter the records of that person, institution, etc. given new findings. Should Andrew Jackson be taken from the twenty-dollar bill? In my opinion, probably. Should he be less incorporated into history books because of his transgressions? In my opinion, probably not. He did awful things but that doesn’t change his importance in American history. He should be presented holistically, though, and not as a crusader of the American way. These issues are playing out on our campus, too. The events with Silent Sam and Saunders Hall have raised issues about revising our view of UNC’s history. But something to consider is whether changing the name of a building or tearing down a monument is going to give voice to minorities’ history, like Caswell would advocate, or are those actions just polishing the image of a pristine, progressive-thinking university in the same way that Columbus was molded into the heroic founder of America?

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2 Responses to Blog Post #4

  1. Carla Aviles-Jimenez says:

    Very interesting point on viewing history holistically, a notion I agree with completely. Your point on Christopher Columbus is an apt one, as it is true that he is credited as a more positive figure despite his historical accountability regarding the indigenous population. It’s fascinating how elementary, middle, and high school textbooks seem to oversimplify certain people in history and their “achievements.” To further the topic of Columbus, I recently took a history class here at UNC called “Latin America under Colonial Rule,” and when we discusses Columbus we specifically talked about his positive depiction in textbooks and the credit given to him as the discoverer of America. However, in this class I learned that Columbus actually was not an important figure at the time. Moreover, to complicate your assertion that he was a horrible person, evidence shows later conquistadors being crueler to the indigenous rather than Columbus. Furthermore, and this is very shocking to me, the professor of my class indicated new historical evidence that suggests the natives assisting in conquering themselves, specifically in regards to Hernan Cortes and his conquering the Aztecs. I think this simply exemplifies your argument about history not being told as holistically as it should today. Therefore, I also question whether efforts to tell a more holistic story, as in the recent cases here at UNC, actually serve to tell the truth of history, or further act in covering it up especially when Caswell’s article seems to show the benefits of telling someone else’s story.

  2. Annie Kingman says:

    Your post resonated with me because you raise an important point: bad history is still history. It would seem that our society is constantly trying to find ways to take a giant eraser to our blunders, but this is not possible, nor is it correct. I believe it may even be more important that we recognize ‘bad history,’ because we need to learn from our mistakes. History can serve as a tool for progress; we should acknowledge the mistakes of the past and learn from them. Maybe we would not have the phrase “history repeats itself” if our society was willing to own up to our failures by acknowledging them in our accounts of history. If we understand our darker past, we can more easily spot the seeds of societal regression and change course. Since February is Black History month, I thought I would bring up the debate we often hear circulating around this time of year: should we have a Black History Month? Many believe the month is hypocritical; we hear people say “every month should be black history month, because all people should be treated as equals.” I completely understand and agree with this point. However, perhaps we ought to be unafraid to acknowledge that our country made a mistake regarding the treatment of African-Americans, and use this month as an appropriate reminder that we should take our mistakes and learn from them. The debate is more complex than I have just rendered it, but I think it is relevant to the ideas you brought up.

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