Date: Thu, 12 Jan 1995 10:08:23 -0500
Sender: H-NET List for World History <>
Subject: History Standards
To: Multiple recipients of list H-WORLD <>

FROM: Dan Segal <>
Pitzer College

History Standards

By Dan Segal, 12 January 1995

Around the time of the publication of the *National Standards* by the National Center for History in the Schools at U.C.L.A., there was a discussion of them on H-WORLD and elsewhere. It is both understandable and unfortunate that the H-WORLD discussion primarily focussed on the radical conservative attack on the *Standards* by Lynne Cheney and others.

I have now had the chance to read the “World History” report (geared to grades 5–12), and I am struck by how cautious the report is in moving toward a robustly global and cross-cultural view of history. There is certainly a great deal to admire in the report, and as a parent, I would much prefer that my children be taught what the report suggests than what I was taught in school. Moreover, the report deserves credit for encouraging further discussion and my comments, though critical, are presented in that spirit.

Rather than write an overly-long post that fully reviews the report, I thought it would be more fruitful for H-WORLD, if I contributed—over a number of days—a series of short posts each of which focussed on one point of concern for me.

I will begin with a point that converges with Ken Pomeranz's recent post on the histories of the construction of modern race categories. As far as I can tell, the *National Standards* for World History at no point recognizes that this is an important aspect of modern world history. Moreover, the report appears to be written as if modern identities (of race, nationality and ethnicity) have always been present. It thus accords modern identities an objective status, and does not historicize them. By contrast, I would argue that it is important for us as historians to demonstrate to students that modern identities—be they nationalities, racial identities or ethnic identities—are not objective and essential givens, but have histories, and *thus could be altered*. In short, it is important that we teach students that the identities and distinctions of our world are not inevitable, timeless and fixed.

In sum, if I were to suggest an additional “standard,” it would be that students develop the critical thinking skill of seeing “race,” “ethnic” and “national identities” as historical products. And I would further propose that we attempt to achieve this additional standard by teaching students the histories of various modern identities—such as the histories of the category of “European” or “Black” or “French” or “Trinidadian” or “Han.” Etc.

A bibliographic note: this criticism of the *National Standards* follows closely the arguments made by B. Fields in her essay “Ideology and Race in American History” in J. Kousser and J. McPherson (eds.) *Region, Race, and Reconstruction* (Oxford, 1982).