Progress Vs. Change According to Frances FitzGerald

Author: Ryan Yang | Category: History | Date: 06-13-2020

In the essay, “Rewriting American History,” writer Frances FitzGerald discusses the evolution of American history textbooks from the 1950s to the 1970s. At one particular point, FitzGerald mentions that in the new texts, “the word ‘progress’ has been replaced by the word ‘change.’” In writing this, FitzGerald explains that the information presented in the textbooks have evolutionized to be drastically changing instead of gradually progressing. 

Throughout her essay, Frances FitzGerald compares the textbooks of the 1950s and ‘70s and the contrasting ways the different generations of Americans perceive the information. She explains that, at first, history textbooks maintained unity with each other and that the facts written were consistent throughout the years. It is clear that, in the older generations, many viewed history textbooks to be fully reliable and believed that they presented the absolute truth. Information would shape American values and its culture to be at their best. Many aspects of the American life were presented in a positive manner. Moreover, as many possessed uniform views and beliefs about their nation, it is not surprising that they did not object to some, if not none, of the information. With these aspects of the American textbook and the culture of this generation, textbooks, as described by FitzGerald, slowly progressed in regards to the information being presented. Revision by publishers within textbooks were less common and, if there were any changes, it would not be so extreme, especially with the American people holding rigid, but uniform, beliefs. As a result, FitzGerald describes history textbooks in the ‘50s to slowly develop in a way that did not change the values and ideals of the American at the time. 

The development of textbooks, however, began to take a different path in the later years of the 20th century. FitzGerald clearly points out that textbooks no longer present uniform information. Of course, some facts and descriptions may be similar in some ways, but according to the writer, in modern textbooks, much of what is presented is based on people’s perspectives and views towards certain matters and ideals. WIthout this unity in the American history textbooks, information being presented can and is clearly transformed, whether it is the facts in the books or the attitude displayed by a publisher or historian. In other words, there is a wider range of beliefs within the nation, causing different views on historical matter to arise. With the looser views of society that were present in the American culture later in its history, the author describes that publishers’ revisions have changed information drastically unlike the earlier years of the study of history. More of the focus goes towards the negative aspects of American history, and with more views arising, greater changes are being made in the facts of history. Many textbooks, as stated by FitzGerald, illustrate different events and issues dramatically, introducing new perspectives and causing new opinions to arise. Moreover, revisions have become increasingly common and more extreme over the years, resulting in students in possibly the same generation learning about new, and perhaps contradicting, facts about the American history. Overall, FitzGerald describes these “changes” in historical texts to be extreme and inconsistent, causing transformations of the ideals of as well as generational division among the American people. 

All in all, writer Frances FitzGerald describes the “progress’ and the “change” in American textbooks from the 1950s to the 1970s, explaining the considerable differences between studies of history in the two time periods. It is clear that the development of American history textbooks in the 1950s was very gradual with information in textbooks being revised to a very small extent, helping to maintain the ideals of the American people. However, textbooks have transformed by the 1970s as publishers informed people of different types of information as well as different perspectives on certain matters. The evolution of textbooks have caused the culture and the ideals of the American people to change, and FitzGerald clearly believes that such changes will only increase, causing different generations to have a different perception of their own nation.



About: Ryan Yang


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