Cece Burger: War of 1812, US textbook description.

For this blog, I examined the U.S. textbook description of the War of 1812. The textbook is written by American historians who have authored many works on the American South, Civil War, early American politics and other related topics. The textbook’s preface asserts the value of the work explaining that “The American Promise is one of the most widely adopted texts for the U.S. history survey, reaching students at all levels and helping instructors…” The preface goes on to say the author’s aim is to create “a comprehensive, balanced account of American history… to engage students in the American story and portray fully the diversity of the American experience.” These statements seem encouraging in the pursuit of truthful historical account. However, as we have learned, complete objective history can’t really be attained and this textbook holds its own subjectivity and perspectives.

The description of the War of 1812 begins with the lead-up to the war and provides a very general overview of events that took place. The description starts by focusing on American politics and international relations in the early 1800s. Briefly explained are the various attempts the U.S. made to stay out of a war with France and England. The narrative takes a turn away from the lead-up to war by devoting nearly an entire page to Dolley Madison and social politics. This is then followed by a short explanation of two Shawnee chiefs, Tecumseh and Tippecanoe, who lost land to the U.S. and lost in the battle of Tippecanoe. The reading transitions to talk exclusively about the events of the War highlighting major events and successes of American militants. The description ends by asserting no one won the War of 1812 but counters this with, “Americans celebrated as though they had…the war gave rise to a new spirit of nationalism.” This conclusion paints a pretty picture of American success and strength when it seems there was very little.

The preface does a good job of explaining the textbook’s purpose but in reading this section of the text I found it shockingly more simplified than the authors lead one to believe. The textbook was created as an introduction to American history so naturally, the content will be abridged and compacted. The authors seem to use this to copout on a truer/fuller narration of the War of 1812. Traditionalist interpretations of American history see the event is as less important than other aspects causing parts of the history to be brushed over and left out. For example, the reading grossly neglects to give much empathy to American Indians who suffered greatly nor do the authors suggest much wrong-doing on the United States part. The blatant partiality for the American perspective causes the reading to be staunchly in favor of showing the U.S. in good light.  The textbook shares a clear American perspective on the War of 1812 which lacks any alternative explanation or regard for the fuller details that could challenge this basic narrative.

Source: James Roark, Michael Johnson, Patricia Cline Cohen, Sarah Stage and Susan Hartmann. The American Promise; A History of the United States, Fifth Edition. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012.

Word Count: 517

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