History is often conceptualized as a chronological series of objective facts to reveal objective and apolitical understandings of the past. However, this understanding of the discipline fails to take into account how historical narratives and understandings are shaped by cultural assumptions about power and agency, current forces that shape authors’ understandings and perspectives, and the selective inclusion or exclusion of material and perspectives into stories.
This tension between history as fact and constructed interpretation is evident in the debate surrounding the Confederate Civil War memorial. Proponents of such memorials often argue that they celebrate Southern heritage and that removing markers of the past means “erasing history” and “forgetting the past.”
On the other hand, proponents of demolition rightly point out that most of the monuments were erected during the Jim Crow era as a backlash against the expansion of civil rights. Confederate monuments are not objective, impartial symbols of the past, but were erected to advance the political and social agenda that excluded individuals from American citizenship and society.
Resources that challenge traditional historical narratives and support anti-bias education
Historical narratives in history textbooks, such as monuments, are selective constructions and understandings of the past, often excluding, silencing, or minimizing the experiences of historically marginalized groups. // Not only should teachers design experiences for students to question and challenge traditional textbook narratives, but they must also draw upon the following resources:
(1) Written by authors from diverse and representative backgrounds;
(2) Provide a more differentiated, nuanced, and inclusive narrative;
(3) Take a clear anti-bias perspective.
There are many excellent books for adult readers that present broader historical narratives and support anti-bias teaching, but the density of ideas, length of reading, and complexity of texts diminish their usefulness in middle and high school history teaching. Fortunately, many prominent historians and academic writers have partnered with seasoned teenage writers to adapt their work for young adult audiences.
7 High-Quality History Books for Teens
1. Stamped: Racism, Anti Racism, and You, by Jason Reynolds (author) and Ibram X. Kendi (author). The authors claim that this is not a history book, but a book about the present, using history to understand America, the construction of race, and the development of racist and anti-racist ideas. Designed for middle and high school readers, this remix, based on the award-winning imprint from the ground up, traces the construction of race from the Age of Exploration to the present day. This is a great resource for connecting past and present. While it doesn’t avoid challenging stories, the book is ultimately upbeat and provides a powerful framework for helping students create positive change in the world. (In May 2021, the author will release another adaptation for elementary school students.)
2. A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America, by Rebecca Stefoff (adapter) and Ronald Takaki (author). Adapted from Ronald Takaki’s 2008 edition of A Different Mirror, the remix for middle and high school students uses journals, letters, and poetry to present a multicultural, multiracial, and inclusive account of American history, culture, and identity.
3. 1493 for Young People: From Columbus’s Voyage to Globalization, by Rebecca Stefoff (adapter) and Charles Mann (author). Columbus’ voyages to the Americas opened up the exchange of humans, plants, animals, microorganisms, viruses, and cultures. While historical narratives often place great men, often great white European men, at the center of the story, the adaptation of 1493: Discovering the New World Created by Columbus focuses on and takes advantage of the circumstances and circumstances that resulted from Colombians exchanging that understanding. Social Upheaval Understand today’s globalization. Most notably, the book underscores the importance of the interaction between the Americas and Africa, and Asia. This is an essential book for middle and high school world history classes.
4. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, by Jean Mendoza (adapted), Debbie Reese (adapted), and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (author). This adaptation of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s writings puts Indigenous peoples and nations at the heart of American history, deftly challenging traditional narratives in history textbooks.
5. A Queer History of the United States for Young People, by Richie Chevat (adapters) and Michael Bronski (authors). Aside from brief mentions during research on the Stonewall riots, LGBTQ people are often invisible in historical texts. Adapted from letters, journals, and biographies, however, Michael Bronski’s History of Queer in America traces her contributions to history, culture, and the construction of American identity over more than 500 years. The book highlights the importance of activism for social change and the contributions of youth and young adults.
6. A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror, by Rebecca Stefoff (adapter) and Howard Zinn (author). Based on Howard Sinn’s A History of the American People, Rebecca Stratford’s youth adaptation presents the perspectives of workers, women, enslaved individuals, Native Americans, and other groups often silenced in educational material. Pay particular attention to the labor movement and protests for social justice.
7. Freedom Summer for Young People: The Violent Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy, by Rebecca Stratford (adapted) and Bruce Watson (author). This work presents a stunning and engaging historical narrative that highlights the importance of grassroots community activism in the 1964 Civil Rights Movement. The book describes the violence and intimidation of that period but also celebrates the bravery of community leaders and disenfranchised citizens fighting for the right to vote. The book highlights the contributions of external allies, especially young college students. Bruce Watson’s companion book, Freedom Summer, is an excellent resource for teachers to delve into this dramatic period of civil rights struggles.
About the article
History is often conceptualized as a chronological series of objective facts to reveal objective and apolitical understandings of the past. In this article, we discussed the 7 Books That Give Students an Inclusive Look at United States History.