Is It Time To Start Teaching U.S. History 3?By Clay Morgan
At what point does our current world become the third installment of history?
Students routinely take U.S. History 1 and 2, with the halves hinged at the Civil War. The big theme throughout those courses is that expansion leads to conflict. Then nuclear weapons showed up and the stakes of the conflict soared. After civil rights movers, cold warriors, and global connectors, the world is a different place. At some point in the future, the third phase of American history will be put in perspective.
The most likely end point for U.S. 2 will be 1991. Most people don’t realize how much the world changed just as Bill Clinton packed up the Arkansas caravan and headed to D.C. The Cold War against communism faded as technology destroyed communication as the world had known it. With no superpower to despise and the internet on the rise (thanks Al Gore), Clinton’s focus became different than any president before him. The times they were a-changin’.
Of course, nature abhors a vacuum so a new enemy rose up, and soon planes, buildings, and people became targets of the anti-West, radicals hell bent on destroying, well, most everyone.
As civilization roars on, more happens in less time. Existence continues to speed up, time is exponentially unfolding just as populations grow in the same way. It used to take a couple of months to send a message from Europe to America. Now the same message can be transmitted instantaneously. End result? People from many nations with many agendas are connected and more stuff happens. One year today is like a ten a century ago.
Also, the current hinge point is logical. The Civil War is the proper hinge in U.S. history, and to understand that one must know about European exploration and the growth of the international slave trade through the 18th Century. The only other alternative would be to end U.S. 1 before the American Revolution. But that would be stupid.
Finally, the same technology boom that sped everything up has allowed our times to be documented like never before. We will have complete visual records of every nuance of every event. Think of how baby boomers may only have a few pictures from their childhood while Generation X grew up watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. This last point will also alter the craft of historians as firm visual evidence will make artistic license and revisionism more difficult to sell. [Then again, there are still maniacs who claim the Holocaust never happened.]
One final thought: What will the textbook cover look like to U.S. History 3?
The title might be Globalization to Present or End of the Cold War to Present, but I wonder what the cover photo will be. The likely choice could be the Manhattan skyline on 9/11, but the future textbook writers won’t share our scars. If you had asked the same question in 1943, many people would have said the attack on Pearl Harbor would be the iconic image of U.S. 2. I haven’t seen that cover yet.
I hope you’ll suggest your ideas too.
Most likely, the cover will focus on someone or something we have yet to experience, one of those traumatic scenes that change us forever.
That’s the beauty of history: We will be it tomorrow. Time rolls on faster and faster. Don’t think you can ignore it.