Jan 27, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Historians take on misinformation in U.S. history

Cover of Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past

Cover: Basic Books

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."

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.

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