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Incomplete historical narratives create misunderstandings

The only narrative in our history classes needs to be one of factual accounts. | Katie Santana/The Cougar

At one point or another, we’ve all taken a history class, and if that class piques our interest enough, we may continue that path.

But why do most history classes stick to the same old topics taught the same way with the same general themes?

How many times have we learned about the world wars? How many times have we heard the rhyme as old as time: “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492?” These topics are important, but there are other important things that should be taught as well.

If you go into a class on the history of Native Americans, you can’t expect to learn about the Roman Empire. In general history courses, it’s important that we teach students the past in reference to the present and future, rather than precedents that are no longer as imperative to learn as they once were. 

For example, we learn that post-Civil War is when African-Americans truly began to have rights and that there were still internal battles fought to further their rights even after the war.

Classes tend to end this discussion leaving students to think that race relations are at peace, even though it is evident through police brutality and the protests like the one in Charlottesville that racial harmony has a long way to go.

Not only should we be spending more time connecting the past, present and future, but we should also include monumental facets of history that are not even covered in mainstream academia. 

The Stonewall protests, as well as the LGBTQ community, are not mentioned anywhere in any general U.S. history course. The historical narratives of American minorities are too completely written by the victors.

But, I ask you, what are the descendants of this history winning if we are shut out of a complete historical narrative, the absence of which is currently causing us social inequity and anxiety? Feminism is mentioned but only brushed over in history courses, and when it is spoken about, it mentions allegedly progressive historical figures like Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

She fought for women’s rights, but her progressive agenda stopped there, when amid rumors that black men would soon gain suffrage, she said, “We educated, virtuous white women are more worthy of the vote.”

Many historical figures are taught in a one-dimensional sense that advances a false narrative. Even to this day, not all women have the same rights as other women, making intersectional feminism absolutely necessary.

As Michael Conway wrote for The Atlantic, “Currently, most students learn history as a set narrative — a process that reinforces the mistaken idea that the past can be synthesized into a single, standardized chronicle of several hundred pages.”

Some would argue that there is too much history to be able to pack more into the already-busy courses we have. Then why do we have so much time to repeat what we’ve already been taught?

How many more times can we possibly learn about the American Revolution? If you ask me, there are some things we can cut out to make room for the past that is affecting our society today.

History needs to be a facet of understanding to better the future, and we can’t truly do that unless we cover everything. With the topics and individuals we do cover, we must make sure they aren’t taught linearly. Teachers and professors should not get to pick and choose the narrative.

Staff writer Aleena Khan is an exploratory studies freshman. She can be reached at [email protected].


  • The general core history course is exactly that…a condensed general overview of pivotal points in world or US history. Yes, there are many important and relevant topics not discussed, but it is practically impossible to do so in a semester course that has to span decades of history. The students at our school have a full library, a host of elective history courses, and the internet to provide information on any topic they desire. As for “how many times have we learned about the world wars?” Clearly not enough as evidenced by many students not even knowing what the axis or the allies are…

  • This is a wonderfully written article on an important topic. And, to know that it was written by a first year student makes it even better! I am currently taking a history course and I have the same thoughts that you articulated very frequently. I couldn’t have said this better myself. While it is important to acknowledge the practical constraints of developing a one semester course, and that students can do outside research, that does not negate the fact that a campus that is inclusive needs to be intentional about that effort in the classroom as well. Instructors can explore these topics through different frames/paradigms, be more intentional about text book selections, and offer additional/non-required readings, etc. Inclusion takes effort and intention and I definitely see history courses as a great place for active work in this area.

  • And Margaret Sanger was a racist and a person who thought her own race was the only one worthy of survival. Just read her autobiography for proof

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