Monday, October 13, 2014
Sam Wineburg Watch - A New Ongoing Feature
Hi faithful readers. We here at Looking Out From the Panopticon are pleased to announce a new feature: Sam Wineburg Watch. In this feature, we will keep tabs on Wineburg and his Stanford History Education Group which is rapidly becoming one of the most influential places for teachers to find lesson plans and information about how to teach history. But there's a problem with Wineburg and SHEG. They apparently don't prioritize the last 30 years of historiography. They fetishize documents at the expense of other types of sources and that means they also prioritize the rich and powerful, the white and male, at the expense of others.
Today was a good example of that. Wineburg tweeted out a link to this article he wrote in 2005 when Berkeley stopped celebrating Columbus Day and started celebrating Indigenous People's Day. In the article, he inform us that Columbus' legacy doesn't really matter because what Columbus Day is really about is getting urban Catholic votes for Benjamin Harrison and the Republican Party. By coming up with a Catholic hero and nationalizing him as a figure of importance, Harrison hoped to persuade new immigrants to become Republicans.
OK, so far so good. But that's where Wineburg stops. Missing from this analysis is the larger question of how immigrants that weren't white (he uses the term "swarthy") became white and the answer isn't just about politics. As many, many studies have shown whiteness is predicated on differentiating the European from the "other" typically Native Americans (as in King Phillip's War) or African Americans (as in the Jacksonian creation of universal white male suffrage and simultaneous disenfranchisement of African Americans).
Thus by picking someone closely associated with genocide, Harrison located Italian immigrants into the long tradition of killing Indians to become white. That's an important part of the story and Wineburg, as is typical for him, totally misses the point. He assures us that Columbus Day is just about politics and urban voting in the 1890s and a celebration of immigrants becoming American. He somehow neglects to mention that the proclamation came a mere two years after the Wounded Knee massacre that ended the Plains Wars once and for all. Visions of European Conquest and as Richard Drinnon put it the sub-title of an early book on the topic, "The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building."
So in other words, Columbus Day is all about the pattern that Columbus started. And it is time to change the name.
In related news, if anybody hasn't seen Erik Loomis' #GenocideDay tweets, they really are worth a read.