I The other day during a car ride with my daughter we embarked on an amazing learning journey. She was watching a video on Slavery from BrainPop. The video did a good job of providing an overview of the issues of Slavery and the causes of the Civil War as related to slavery. It detailed the beginnings of slavery in America and including the Triangular Trade Route, treatment of slaves, and the Emancipation Proclamation. There were some really good details in the video, but as I listened, I was compelled to ask my daughter some questions to delve into deeper levels of understanding.
I asked her if she thought all the people in the North wanted to end slavery, that they all disliked it? After she responded, I added details about my educational journey. That it wasn't until my junior year of college in a African American literature class that I truly began to see history as a complex web of personal stories all told from various points of view. I began to see the events that shaped this country were not exactly what I was led to believe in history text books, or the multitude of classes I had attended.
I didn't explain this to her, instead I told her that when I was her age I thought everyone in the North disliked Slavery and everyone in the South wanted desperately to hold onto the practice. I truly saw the North as the benevolent Abolitionists and the South as morally corrupt and despised them. I continued the conversation adding an overview of the economic differences as they impacted the need for the different labor practices. And as I am reading this I realize it sounds like the conversation would go way over her head. I realize I am not doing a good job with the dialogue we had. What I am really trying to portray the learning that I experienced during this conversation.
While I was trying to explain to her the causes of the Civil War especially looking at the idea of how one side was trying to tell the other side what to do I saw the connection between so many other events in history. The revelation is simple. We too often overlook the point of view of certain parties/groups/people involved in history by telling the story from the victors point of view. Now this might not be ground breaking for many, but in this instance it led to a flurry of potential examples. I began to see a multitude of historical events in a new light. We have learned about history from a particular lens that often doesn't include the multitude of perspectives or their complexities.
From this I had the honest question- how do southern states teach about the Civil War? In the North we focused on slavery. Yes as I got older there was more talk of other causes, but honestly slavery was still front and center.
As I began to ponder the question about how the south would teach this, I took a step back and thought about how the south viewed the causes of the Civil War. I wonder if their version would have focused more on the tyranny of a distant government trying to impose its will upon them. The actions of this government in the North trying to take away their livelihood.
The lessons for History!
This perspective lead me to a whole list of similar events in history that made me take pause and consider from a different point of view.
America celebrates Independence Day, how does Great Britain view this day and more importantly the Revolutionary War?
America fought to make the world safe for Democracy, how do the countries where we engaged in war view our presence and our actions?
America worked to create peace in the Middle East. In doing so it funded Iran with the Iran-Contra Affair as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Both countries were waging war agains the other going into battle with American made weapons. How do these people view American involvement and how has that impacted modern events?
America considers the colonists who fought against the tyranny of Great Britain's rule as heroes, yet the southern secessionists could be considered traitors. Or another example the colonists were freedom fighters from America's point of view for standing up to a government trying to impose its will and its way of life on others. Would groups like Al-Queda and ISIS see themselves as terrorists or freedom fighters? Why is it important to consider their point of view?
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor to bring the US into WWII, and America dropped the only Atomic bombs in history on Japan to end the war. How would Japanese teach these events in their history classes? How does the world look at America for being the only country to use these weapons on other human beings and yet today strictly controls who is able to have access to this technology.
How do we tell the story of inequality throughout the world?
How do other nations view America's excess, disposable technologies, and affluent lifestyle, when they are unable to obtain adequate food, water and healthcare?
How do the 42 million Americans living in poverty view politicians, superpacs, the rich debating what is best for America- talking about jobs, entitlements when they struggle daily?
How would the industrial workers in America tell the story of the Industrial Revolution?
How would Native Americans retell the events of Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion?
How would our textbooks and historical perspective be different if we recorded the Immigrant POV and not just an overview?
How would we view war if we told it from the Soldier's POV like Stephen Ambrose attempted to do in Citizen Soldier?