The Responsibility of Historians


  • Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz



Race, History, Inequality


During twenty years as an historian teaching Native American Studies at California State University, I have regularly required students to complete a specific research project: they must read or reread and analyze one university-level U.S. history text in current use, assessing the treatment of Native Americans, looking for both distortions and omissions. In this way I have followed U.S. history textbook development over two decades. In preparation for this panel I have read a number of new and revised textbooks and the commentaries published annually since 1992 in the Joumal of American History. My conclusion, in answer to the question posed for this panel—what has changed, what needs to change?—is that everything has changed and nothing has changed. The new textbooks include materials on the previously marginalized—Indians, Africans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Filipinos—who were forced into the United States project of wealth and empire building, as well as women, workers, socialists, pacifists, anti-imperialists—albeit mainly portraying them as victims, not actors. What has not changed, and why nothing has changed, is the essential origin myth.

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