History Past: Historical Thinking and Historiography

I may have made the mistake of beginning this week’s reading with George Iggers’s Historiography in the Twentieth Century. And while I did enjoy some aspects of this particular scholarly work, it was dense at times and somewhat confusing at others. I recognized many of the names Iggers mentioned but felt overwhelmed by the sheer number. Thus, I was pleased when I picked up John Tosh’s Pursuit of History and began to peruse the first three chapters. Indeed, Tosh is not so far removed from Iggers: he also traces the history of history (if you will) but does it in a way that is much more accessible and interesting. Perhaps this has to do with writing style? Or my own personal preferences? I will be interested to hear what my classmates have to say about the two in comparison and contrast with one another.

I enjoyed reading William J. Novak’s, “The Myth of the ‘Weak’ American State,”  particularly because I felt he did an excellent job of supporting his main argument and refuting the myth. I honestly do not believe I had ever really heard of this myth before. Certainly, reverence of our Founding Fathers and what they accomplished as revolutionaries in the 18th century has been taught to me from my earliest days and as Americans, we are known for our pride in our roots and beginnings. But is it truly Americans who suggest that the American state is “weak”? Or is it individuals from other nations or other time periods, even? I suppose that is my biggest question for Novak and what perhaps left me must befuddled this week.

The reading that stuck out to me most readily was the textbook excerpts from Kyle Ward. As a future educator myself, I have already experienced the frustration and dissatisfaction that is the textbook industry and I was interested to see precisely how much the telling of each historical event changed over time depending on the time period when each textbook entry was published and printed. Unfortunately, history as a subject is not so cut and dry as many like to (mistakenly) believe. Rather, history is much like other subjects in that it is open to interpretation and it is the ideas and notions of whomever is relating a certain historical event that ultimately decides how precisely such history will be presented and then studied or absorbed. I felt this related directly to Iggers in that he spends a great deal of his book exploring the controversy over history as a science or history as an art. Tosh similarly studies this and both seem to agree that it is impossible to pinpoint history as one or the other. In fact, Tosh writes “…the truth is that history cannot be defined as either a humanity or a social science without denying a large part of its nature…History is a hybrid discipline…” (53). Why then, do we still teach the “facts” of history from elementary through high school? Why are we not allowed to stretch our minds, interpret history ourselves, and think critically about the past until we get to college (if even then)? These are the questions that frustrate me as a future history teacher and my aim is to one day allow my students to study history in a way much different than what is typically driven into our heads from a very young age.