Archive for February 12, 2009
Originally written as a textbook, this book is a good introduction to American history from its founding to the 19th century. It discusses history not in a strictly chronological manner, but more thematically, which gives meaning to many facts that would otherwise be disconnected. This no doubt makes for a more subjective viewpoint, showing how Charles and Mary Beard interpreted causes and effects in history. But it also creates a much greater interest in history as something that actually matters.
As the authors explain in the Preface:
First. We have written a topical, not a narrative, history. We have tried to set forth the important aspects, problems, and movements of each period, bringing in the narrative rather by way of illustration.
Second. We have emphasized those historical topics which help to explain how our nation has come to be what it is to-day.
Third. We have dwelt fully upon the social and economic aspects of our history, especially in relation to the politics of each period.
Fourth. We have treated the causes and results of wars, the problems of financing and sustaining armed forces, rather than military strategy. These are the subjects which belong to a history for civilians. These are matters which civilians can understand–matters which they must understand, if they are to play well their part in war and peace.
Fifth. By omitting the period of exploration, we have been able to enlarge the treatment of our own time. We have given special attention to the history of those current questions which must form the subject
matter of sound instruction in citizenship.
Sixth. We have borne in mind that America, with all her unique characteristics, is a part of a general civilization. Accordingly we have given diplomacy, foreign affairs, world relations, and the reciprocal influences of nations their appropriate place.
Seventh. We have deliberately aimed at standards of maturity. The study of a mere narrative calls mainly for the use of the memory. We have aimed to stimulate habits of analysis, comparison, association, reflection, and generalization–habits calculated to enlarge as well as inform the mind.
As a non-American, I especially appreciated the sixth point: that it put the United States in the context of world history, particularly in its interplay with Europe.
I will certainly recommend the book to my own children once they reach the appropriate age.