In the 1990s, one theater of the “Culture Wars” became dubbed the “History Wars,” as politicians and political interest groups attempted to influence or control the presentation of historical events and developments in high school textbooks, college curricula, and museum exhibitions.
The “History Wars” were never really resolved and have been heating up once again recently.
The latest battleground in the “History Wars” is Oklahoma, where state legislators proposed a bill that describing the new AP History curriculum as an “emergency” that allegedly threatens the “public peace, health and safety.” These legislators are outraged by the AP History curriculum’s treatment of American history, claiming that it “includes little or no discussion of the Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation’s history and many other critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course.” The lawmakers also complain that the AP History curriculum “excludes discussion of the U.S. military (no battles, commanders or heroes) and omits many other individuals and events that greatly shaped our nation’s history (for example, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Tuskegee Airmen, the Holocaust).” The bill, if passed, would defund AP History beginning in Fall 2015.
The AP History curriculum authors and the American Historical Association, the flagship professional association of historians in the United States, defend the AP History curriculum’s content and methodological approaches. Many historians in Oklahoma have already spoken out to oppose the proposed legislation, which could result in no AP History courses being offered in Oklahoma.
“History has an unusual combination of being politically sensitive and also a discipline that more people feel they know more about than some other disciplines,” according to Jim Grossman, who is the Executive Director of the American Historical Association. Grossman argues that: “Historians have been successful writing for the general public and many people have a deep and abiding interest in history, and that’s a wonderful thing. But there are going to be more legislators who feel they are qualified in this area.”
Expect the “History Wars” to continue.
Inside Higher Ed, NPR, and the Guardian report on the AP History controversy in Oklahoma. The College Board publishes the AP curricula in the United States. For an analysis of the political aspects of the Oklahoma “History Wars,” see an article on Politico.
For a deeper background on the current “History Wars,” see Jim Grossman’s op-ed for the New York Times, as well as Edward T. Linethal and Tom Engelhardt’s History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past (New York: Metropolitan, 1996), and Gary B. Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn’s History on Trial: Culture Wars and the TEaching of the Past (New York: Knopf, 1997).