Historians take on misinformation in U.S. history
Some of the nation's top historians are going after lies and misinformation about U.S. history in a new book.
Why it matters: Red states in recent years have enacted laws aimed at limiting classroom discussions of slavery and Native American removal, while pushing a positive, nationalist version of U.S. history. Historians say that's a dangerous path.
- Misinformation about U.S. history also has spread on social media, historians say.
Details: "Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past" tackles historical misinformation through a series of essays by historians specializing in civil rights, immigration and economics.
- The book, released this month, seeks to rebut simplistic maxims repeated mainly by the right — that the New Deal was bad, the Reagan revolution was good, and Confederate monuments are nothing more than historical artifacts.
The intrigue: Editors Kevin M. Kruse and Julian Zelizer, both Princeton University historians, say the right has used the conservative media ecosystem to dismiss evidence about real conflicts in favor of a patriotic story of triumph and perseverance.
Catch up quick: The administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) this month blocked a new Advanced Placement course for high school students on African American studies. Florida education officials said it "lacks educational value."
- Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed an executive order prohibiting "indoctrination and critical race theory in schools."
- At least 14 states enacted legislation to limit the teaching of "divisive concepts" or CRT in 2021 and 2022, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
- The right's focus on history lessons accelerated during former President Donald Trump's term as he defended Confederate monuments and steered a report from his "1776 Commission" that only focused on positive U.S. history.
What they're saying: "Anything that only speaks to the good parts of the country and ignores the flaws, that focuses more on aspirations than execution, is not history. It's propaganda," Kruse told Axios.
- "It's not our job to tear the country down, either. Our job is to provide a clear-eyed assessment."
- Zelizer said that assessment includes civil rights, racial violence and other political struggles that have animated the United States.
- "It's taking the country seriously. That's patriotic, in my opinion."
Zoom in: Among other topics, the book examines are the idea of "American Exceptionalism," stories of voter fraud, the far-right connections to America First ideology, and myths that Native Americans no longer exist in the U.S.
Zoom out: The book is one of several recent historical projects that attempts to reshape long-held narratives.
- Erica Armstrong Dunbar's 2017 book, "Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge," tells a story about George Washington trying to keep a woman in bondage while he spoke about freedom.
- Alice L Baumgartner's 2020 "South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War" details how some enslaved people in the American South fled to Mexico.