07 September 2011

September 11, 2001: Knowing History

Teaching "9/11": Why? How? (The New York Times Learning Network)   
Remembering September 11, 2001
      Iconic Absence       History Remembered, History Forgotten

Lessons developed with Dr. Pamela Moran - Albemarle County Public Schools
with thanks to
The New York Times Learning Network - Holly Epstein Ojalvo and Katherine Schulten

The United States participated in the division of Arab regions between the
United Kingdom an France after World War I. Arab armies had fought
with "the allies" for their freedom, but they became colonies instead.
Looking at "9/11" requires us to look at how "we" - whoever "we" may be - nationally, ethnically, individually, choose to see history. Is our history broadly understood? Or seen through a narrow focus? Is our history important? Or is it a peripheral issue, and not essential? Do we accept that history is stories - often conflicting stories? Or do we insist that history is facts and dates?

Historians have been known to say, "The problem with Americans is that they don't know history; the problem with Europeans is that they do." By this they mean that Americans repeat mistakes because they forget about the past and its lessons while Europeans too often continue fighting over things that happened long ago.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001 some criticised the “ignorance” of Americans in regard to their role in the Middle East. Everything from Woodrow Wilson’s support for the Treaty of Versailles (which divided the Middle East into French and British colonies at the end of World War I), to American policy towards Israel, to the activities of American oil companies was brought up. In Europe, most students do learn about the troubling actions of their nations in the world. Students in England study what happened when Britain ruled Ireland and India. French students learn about Algeria. German students learn about that nation’s actions during World War II. American history classes, however, usually do not spend much time on America’s colonising past.

To show a couple of examples, American students rarely learn about the nation’s war against Philippine independence at the turn of the 20th Century
- or about how the United States came to control Hawaii - but Hungarian students do learn about the Treaty of Trianon -
and Serbian students do learn about the Battle of Kosovo.
"The Dismemberment of Hungary" 1919 - Secret Treaties made with
Romania and Czech nationalists by the French and Americans
during the First World War resulted in vast Hungarian populations
being shifted to other nations in the Treaty of Trianon
Does emphasizing certain historic events affect how a nation behaves in the world? Does it impact the citizens of that nation? Do you think Serbians should stop worrying about a battle lost 700 years ago? Should American be more aware of the Philippine-American War? If those changes were made, what might change?

Students might want to investigate the incidents above, or they may want to go further and investigate some other “memory,” lost or fully recalled, and consider what is impacted by the memory or the lack of it.

What have our students learned about the United States, Great Britain, and France and their interactions with the Arab world? What have they not learned? Do gaps in knowledge contribute to conflict? Do gaps in knowledge prevent  resolution of conflict?

"Uncle Sam" as a school teacher trying to catch
Emilio Aguinaldo, the Filipino Independence
Leader - represented in this 1902 cartoon as
a misbehaving African-American child.
Pictorial History of the Philippine War   
Philippine War from the University of Hawaii

United States "ready to annex Hawaii" from The New York Times   
US annexes Hawaii 1898, from The New York Times Learning Network
President Grover Cleveland opposes Hawaiian annexation (1893)  

Hawaiians celebrate Grover Cleveland (2010)
Hawaiian Independence Action Alliance

Hungarian Assembly accepts our peace. The New York Times
"Romania Still Persecutes Hungarians" The New York Times (1990)
Hungary's Tragic Century The New York Times (2003)
The Treaty of Trianon (Text)

Serbia and Kosovo
A Bitter Struggle in a Land of Strife. The New York Times Learning Network
Between Serb and Albanian (Book Excerpt)
Kosovo declares independence The New York Times (2008)
The Battle of Kosovo (Images)

- Ira Socol

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