Suffering in Silence: The Voice and Representation of Slaves in 1950s American History Textbooks

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:10 PM
Washington Room 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Lindsey Bauman, Bowling Green State University
The importance of textbooks at the primary and secondary levels of education should not be underestimated, particularly when teaching students about history. While a historian’s work is often perceived as being objective and static, scholars are human and, as such, they cannot be completely unbiased. Their choices, their focuses, and their arguments are influenced by the world around them. Despite this, students still tend to read the information presented within their textbooks as being the truth. Textbooks themselves become a kind of authority figure in the classroom with their own voice and credibility.

This significance was as vital in the past as it is today, especially when it came to the representation of subjects concerning race. Using a foundation of twenty junior high school and high school level U.S. History textbooks, this paper argues that the influence of dominant scholarship and attitudes of the 1950s led to slaves primarily being represented through the lens of the white majority while the voices of those who experienced the institution first-hand were largely ignored. This study stands out from others by analyzing the dominant assumptions and expectations of the time period, publishing companies, and students. By examining the textbooks in this way, it shows the implications of social and cultural beliefs and practices for educational materials and the youth who read them.

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