Tuesday, July 22, 2014


           I'd been vaguely aware of the Stanford History Education Group (or SHEG as they call themselves) and the work of Sam Wineburg.  Wineburg's work in Perspectives, for example, was useful for helping me as a TA for college students, and later, as a high school teacher.  Wineburg emphasized articulating the thinking I was doing in my head to explain how historians think and act and do history.  Wineburg's work massively improved my own teaching as I became able to clearly articulate for students what I was doing and then enable them to do those same things on their own. 
             I follow SHEG on twitter and they show up at #sschats.  Bur recently, due to this assessment that they posted on twitter, I got a closer look at SHEG and I'm not happy.  If you follow the link you get a stereoscopic image from 1907 of a bunch of rocks with three traditionally dressed peasant looking people for scale.  The image is labelled  "'The fort where native chiefs held off the 16th century Spaniards,'" American Stereoscopic Company, 1907."   What follows are questions about what the image does and not does not tell you about Inca resistance.
            On the surface, I suppose this is okay.  In a perfect world, students and teachers would have lots of resources to draw on to know about the Inca resistance.  There are first-hand accounts, several excellent histories, artwork, archeological digs and reports, oral histories, church records, and so on.  One crummy slide that recreates a very specific, racialized narrative of Inca resistance that conforms to early twentieth century racialist notions isn't really disastrous.  But, it's unlikely that students spend more than a day or two on the Inca.  This is likely the only view they'll get.
           And it gets worse.
           I went in and looked at the number of documents about Native Americans in their lesson plans.  I counted 14.  Of those, two were authored by Native Americans.  So the Inca document isn't an isolated problem or a one-off.  They've consistently had white voices speak for indigenous voices.  Lets take a closer look at the unit on Indian Removal.  They talk about "the Five Civilized Tribes" only sometimes putting "Civilized" in quotes.  Of the two documents they build the lesson on, one is by Andrew Jackson and the other by Cherokee politician Elias Boudinot.  Both documents support removal.  The question they ask is:  "why did people support removal at the time, why are our reactions to removal different now?"  They don't note that massive resistance by whites and Native Americans to removal took place (they do note that the Supreme Court found for the Cherokee).   The whole things a clusterfuck of 1960s historiography.  There's no acknowledgement of the incredible work done by Theda Purdue.
           And it gets worse.
           The key question for their unit on the Civil Rights Act?  "How committed to Civil Rights was President Kennedy."  Because the Civil Rights Act is about powerful white people.  Sigh.

Yet more proof that you can have the best methods in the world, but if you ask the wrong questions, you're still a dope. 


  1. Wow, Dave--thanks for alerting us. It's disappointing. But as I always say, we learn from everyone and from every example; sometimes we learn things we want to emulate, sometimes we learn negative examples.

    However, this might make a good primary source for grad students or other students in a historiography class--they can analyze & critique it at will.

  2. Thanks for reading Historiann! I was disappointed to learn that nobody from the Stanford History Department was involved with the project, which is, in part, why it's so weak in terms of current historiography and the types of categories of analysis they use. I may write more on this.

  3. Wineburg has agreed to participate in an upcoming #inquirychat, 10/23 @ 9ET. I'll remind you as we get closer.