I missed this Atlantic article “The Problem With History Classes” when it ran back in March. I appreciate Michael Conway’s argument and my only response is “yes!”, although I think his experiences with APUSH were before the recent revisions to the curriculum. He makes what should seem like an obvious point:
History may be an attempt to memorialize and preserve the past, but it is not memory; memories can serve as primary sources, but they do not stand alone as history. A history is essentially a collection of memories, analyzed and reduced into meaningful conclusions—but that collection depends on the memories chosen.
In historiography, the barrier between historian and student is dropped, exposing a conflict-ridden landscape. A diplomatic historian approaches an event from the perspective of the most influential statesmen (who are most often white males), analyzing the context, motives, and consequences of their decisions. A cultural historian peels back the objects, sights, and sounds of a period to uncover humanity’s underlying emotions and anxieties. A Marxist historian adopts the lens of class conflict to explain the progression of events. There are intellectual historians, social historians, and gender historians, among many others. Historians studying the same topic will draw different interpretations—sometimes radically so, depending on the sources they draw from. Fisher’s bill captures high schools’ inability to accept the absence of a single “history” and the co-existence of “histories.”
I fully agree with his call for teaching historiography, but in my experience teaching history and coaching history, I just don’t see these problems Conway and others fear. Most teachers I work with (particularly AP, but also in middle schools) ARE teaching historiography and not this feared single narrative, fact driven course, so many seem afraid of on the Internet.