Penn History Review


By definition, American history textbooks have no business contemplating the years to come. A crude definition of history would limit the range of inquiry backwards in time, to the past. After all, is it not true that most history textbooks are simply a “miscellaneous collection of names, dates, and facts” about the past?1 Further, many historians hold the study of “present history” in contempt because the assemblage of present “facts” is simply too disorderly to fashion a coherent thesis. We can interpret the importance of past events because we know their effects. We have no such knowledge in the present and certainly have even less authority to “interpret” the future. Perhaps it is reassuring that high school history classes rarely get to these pages about the future anyway—after all, it is by definition impossible for a history class to finish by studying the future, and it is not a well-kept secret that most classes fail to make it up to the present, Vietnam, WorldWar II, or even the Roaring Twenties.

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