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Why Isn’t This Map in the History Books?

Why Isn’t This Map in the History Books?


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By the age of 10, most children in the United States have been taught all 50 states that make up the country. But centuries ago, the land that is now the United States was a very different place. Over 20 million Native Americans dispersed across over 1,000 distinct tribes, bands, and ethnic groups populated the territory. Today, Native Americans account for just 1.5 percent of the population, and much of their history has been lost, particularly as today’s education system is sadly lacking when it comes to teaching the rich and complex history of the United States. Here we examine little-known facts about Native Americans, which should be included in every history book.

Tribes

As of January, 2016, there are 566 legally recognized Native American tribes in the United States, as determined by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Prior to European contact, there were over 1,000 tribes, bands or clans, but sadly, some were completely extinguished as a result of disease epidemics or war.

Today, there is not a single accurate historical map that reflects the location of Native American tribes in North America in a single time period, as the post-European contact situation was ever changing, with contact occurring at different times in different areas.

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From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Native Americans sharply declined from approximately 20 million, to a low of 250,000. Today, there are approximately 2.9 million Native Americans in North America.

As of 2000, the largest groups in the United States by population were Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois, and Pueblo.

Tribes of the Indian Nation. ( Emerson Kent )

Regions

Native American tribes in the United States are typically divided into 8 distinct regions, within which tribes had some similarities across culture, language, religion, customs and politics.

Northwest Coast – Native Americans here had no need to farm as edible plants and animals were plentiful in the land and sea. They are known for their totem poles, canoes that could hold up to 50 people, and houses made of cedar planks.

California – Over 100 Native American tribes once lived there. They fished, hunted small game, and gathered acorns, which were pounded into a mushy meal.

The Plateau - The Plateau Native Americans lived in the area between Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. To protect themselves from the cold weather, many built homes that were partly underground.

The Great Basin – Stretching across Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, the Native Americans of the Great Basin had to endure a hot and dry climate and had to dig for a lot of their food. They were one of the last groups to have contact with Europeans.

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The Southwest – The Natives of the Southwest created tiered homes made out of adobe bricks. Many of the tribes had skilled farmers, grew crops, and created irrigation canals. Famous tribes here include the Navajo Nation, the Apache, and the Pueblo Indians.

The Plains – The Great Plains Indians were known for hunting bison, buffalo and antelope, which provided abundant food. They were nomadic people who lived in teepees and they moved constantly following the herds.

Northeast - The Native Americans of the Northeast lived in an area rich in rivers and forests. Some groups were constantly on the move while others built permanent homes.

The Southeast – The majority of the Native American tribes here were skilled farmers and tended to stay in one place. The largest Native American tribe, the Cherokee, lived in the Southeast.

Native American indigenous cultures map by Paul Mirocha .

Languages

It is estimated that there were around one thousand languages spoken in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans.

Today, there are approximately 296 indigenous languages across North America. 269 of them are grouped into 29 families, while the remaining 28 languages are isolates or unclassified.

None of the native languages of North America had a writing system. However, the spoken languages were neither primitive nor simple. Many had grammar systems as complex as those of Russian and Latin.

There was (and is) enormous variety between the languages. Individuals from clans or tribes just one hundred miles apart may have been completely unable to communicate by speech. Neighboring tribes often used a form of sign language to communicate with each other.

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According to UNESCO, most of the indigenous languages in North America are critically endangered, and many are already extinct.

In the United States, the Navajo language is the most spoken Native American language, with more than 200,000 speakers in the Southwestern United States.

Only 8 Native American languages in the United States have a population of speakers large enough to populate a medium-sized town. These are Navajo, Cree, Ojibwa, Cherokee, Dakota, Apache, Blackfoot and Choctaw.

Less than 20 Native American languages in the United States are projected to survive another 100 years.

Native American tribe language map. ( flickr)


Why Isn’t This Map in the History Books?

Over 20 million Native Americans dispersed across over 1,000 distinct tribes, bands, and ethnic groups populated the territory.

Today, Native Americans account for just 1.5 percent of the population, and much of their history has been lost, particularly as today’s education system is sadly lacking when it comes to teaching the rich and complex history of the United States.

Here we examine little-known facts about Native Americans, which should be included in every history book.

As of January, 2016, there are 566 legally recognized Native American tribes in the United States, as determined by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Prior to European contact, there were over 1,000 tribes, bands or clans, but sadly, some were completely extinguished as a result of disease epidemics or war.

Today, there is not a single accurate historical map that reflects the location of Native American tribes in North America in a single time period, as the post-European contact situation was ever changing, with contact occurring at different times in different areas.

From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Native Americans sharply declined from approximately 20 million, to a low of 250,000. Today, there are approximately 2.9 million Native Americans in North America.

As of 2000, the largest groups in the United States by population were Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois, and Pueblo.

Tribes of the Indian Nation (Emerson Kent)
Regions

Native American tribes in the United States are typically divided into 8 distinct regions, within which tribes had some similarities across culture, language, religion, customs and politics.

Northwest Coast – Native Americans here had no need to farm as edible plants and animals were plentiful in the land and sea. They are known for their totem poles, canoes that could hold up to 50 people, and houses made of cedar planks.

California – Over 100 Native American tribes once lived there. They fished, hunted small game, and gathered acorns, which were pounded into a mushy meal.

The Plateau – The Plateau Native Americans lived in the area between Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. To protect themselves from the cold weather, many built homes that were partly underground.

The Great Basin – Stretching across Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, the Native Americans of the Great Basin had to endure a hot and dry climate and had to dig for a lot of their food. They were one of the last groups to have contact with Europeans.

The Southwest – The Natives of the Southwest created tiered homes made out of adobe bricks. Many of the tribes had skilled farmers, grew crops, and created irrigation canals. Famous tribes here include the Navajo Nation, the Apache, and the Pueblo Indians.

The Plains – The Great Plains Indians were known for hunting bison, buffalo and antelope, which provided abundant food. They were nomadic people who lived in teepees and they moved constantly following the herds.

Northeast – The Native Americans of the Northeast lived in an area rich in rivers and forests. Some groups were constantly on the move while others built permanent homes.

The Southeast – The majority of the Native American tribes here were skilled farmers and tended to stay in one place. The largest Native American tribe, the Cherokee, lived in the Southeast.

Native American indigenous cultures map by Paul Mirocha
Languages

It is estimated that there were around one thousand languages spoken in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans.

Today, there are approximately 296 indigenous languages across North America. 269 of them are grouped into 29 families, while the remaining 28 languages are isolates or unclassified.

None of the native languages of North America had a writing system. However, the spoken languages were neither primitive nor simple. Many had grammar systems as complex as those of Russian and Latin.

Native American tribe language map (Flickr)
There was (and is) enormous variety between the languages. Individuals from clans or tribes just one hundred miles apart may have been completely unable to communicate by speech. Neighboring tribes often used a form of sign language to communicate with each other.

According to UNESCO, most of the indigenous languages in North America are critically endangered, and many are already extinct.

In the United States, the Navajo language is the most spoken Native American language, with more than 200,000 speakers in the Southwestern United States.

Only 8 Native American languages in the United States have a population of speakers large enough to populate a medium-sized town. These are Navajo, Cree, Ojibwa, Cherokee, Dakota, Apache, Blackfoot and Choctaw.

Less than 20 Native American languages in the United States are projected to survive another 100 years.


Fellow New Yorkers: It's time to move on — to unmask ourselves and our kids

“Don’t know much about history . . .,” goes the famous song. It’s an apt motto for the Common Core’s elementary school curriculum.

And it’s becoming a serious problem.

A 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in US history. When colleges such as Stanford decline to require Western Civilization classes or high schools propose changing their curriculum so that history is taught only from 1877 onward (this happened in North Carolina), it’s merely a blip in our news cycle.

A 2012 story in Perspectives on History magazine by University of North Carolina professor Bruce VanSledright found that 88 percent of elementary school teachers considered teaching history a low priority.

The reasons are varied. VanSledright found that teachers didn’t focus on history because students aren’t tested on it at the state level. Why teach something you can’t test?

A teacher I spoke with in Brooklyn confirmed this. She said, “All the pressure in lower grades is in math and English Language Arts because of the state tests and the weight that they carry.”

She teaches fourth grade and says that age is the first time students are taught about explorers, American settlers, the American Revolution and so on. But why so late?

VanSledright also found that teachers just didn’t know enough history to teach it. He wrote there was some “holiday curriculum as history instruction,” but that was it.

Arthur, a father in Brooklyn whose kids are in first and second grade at what’s considered an excellent public school, says that’s the only kind of history lesson he’s seen. And even that’s been thin. His second-grade daughter knows George Washington was the first president but not why Abraham Lincoln is famous.

As the parent of a first-grader, I’ve also seen even the “holiday curriculum” in short supply. First grade might seem young, but it’s my daughter’s third year in the New York City public school system after pre-K and kindergarten. She goes to one of the finest public schools in the city, yet knows about George Washington exclusively from the soundtrack of the Broadway show “Hamilton.” She wouldn’t be able to tell you who discovered America.

So far, she has encountered no mention of any historical figure except for Martin Luther King Jr. This isn’t a knock on King, obviously. He’s a hero in our house. But he can’t be the sum total of historical figures our kids learn about in even early elementary school.

For one thing, how do we tell King’s story without telling the story of the Founding Fathers, the Constitution or of Abraham Lincoln? King’s protests were effective because they were grounded in the idea that America was supposed to be something specific, that the Constitution said so — and that we weren’t living up to those ideals.

The Brooklyn teacher I spoke with says instructors balk when it comes to history: They don’t want to offend anyone. “The more vocal and involved the parents are, the more likely the teacher will feel uncomfortable to teach certain things or say something that might create a problem.” Which leaves . . . Martin Luther King.

She cited issues around Thanksgiving, like teaching the story of pilgrims and the Native Americans breaking bread together as one that teachers might sideline for fear of parents complaining. Instead of addressing sticky subjects, we skip them altogether.

As colleges around the country see protests to remove Thomas Jefferson’s statues from their campuses, it’s becoming the norm to erase the parts of history that we find uncomfortable. It’s not difficult to teach children that the pilgrims or Thomas Jefferson were imperfect yet still responsible for so much that is good in America.

Jay Leno used to do a segment on his show called “JayWalking,” where he’d come up to people on the street and ask them what should’ve been easy historical questions. That their responses were funny and cringeworthy enough to get them on the show tells you how well it went.

Leno never asked the year the Magna Carta was published or when North Dakota became a state. He would ask what country we fought in the Revolutionary War, to name the current vice president or how many stars are on the American flag. And yet adults had no idea.

We talk often about how fractured our country has become. That our division increases while school kids are taught less and less about our shared history should come as no surprise.


Explaining the historical significance of Juneteenth

Historians said curriculums are about identity and learning about ourselves and others.

“The curriculum was never designed to be anything other than white supremacist," Julian Hayter, a historian and an associate professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, said, "and it has been very difficult to convince people that other versions of history are not only worth telling. They’re absolutely essential for us as a country to move closer to something that might reflect reconciliation but even more importantly, the truth."

LaGarrett King, an associate professor of social studies education at the University of Missouri, said the history curriculums in schools are meant to tell a story and, in the U.S., that has been one of a “progressive history of the country.”

“Really the overarching theme is, ‘Yes, we made mistakes, but we overcame because we are the United States of America,'” said King, who is also the founding director of the Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education at the university.

“What that has done is it has erased tons of history that would combat that progressive narrative,” he said.

King said the experiences and oppression of Black people, Latino people, indigenous people, Asian people and other minority groups in the U.S. are largely ignored or sidelined to fit those narratives.

“So, of course you’re not going to have crucial information such as what happened in Tulsa, you’re not going to have information such as the bombing of a Philadelphia black neighborhood,” he said.

In 1921 in Oklahoma, whites looted and destroyed Tulsa's Greenwood District, known for its affluent Black community. Historians believe that as many as 300 Black people were killed.


Why Isn’t This Map in the History Books?

Over 20 million Native Americans dispersed across over 1,000 distinct tribes, bands, and ethnic groups populated the territory.

Today, Native Americans account for just 1.5 percent of the population, and much of their history has been lost, particularly as today’s education system is sadly lacking when it comes to teaching the rich and complex history of the United States.

Here we examine little-known facts about Native Americans, which should be included in every history book.

As of January, 2016, there are 566 legally recognized Native American tribes in the United States, as determined by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Prior to European contact, there were over 1,000 tribes, bands or clans, but sadly, some were completely extinguished as a result of disease epidemics or war.

Today, there is not a single accurate historical map that reflects the location of Native American tribes in North America in a single time period, as the post-European contact situation was ever changing, with contact occurring at different times in different areas.

From the 16th through the 19th centuries, the population of Native Americans sharply declined from approximately 20 million, to a low of 250,000. Today, there are approximately 2.9 million Native Americans in North America.

As of 2000, the largest groups in the United States by population were Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois, and Pueblo.

Native American tribes in the United States are typically divided into 8 distinct regions, within which tribes had some similarities across culture, language, religion, customs and politics.

Northwest Coast – Native Americans here had no need to farm as edible plants and animals were plentiful in the land and sea. They are known for their totem poles, canoes that could hold up to 50 people, and houses made of cedar planks.

California – Over 100 Native American tribes once lived there. They fished, hunted small game, and gathered acorns, which were pounded into a mushy meal.

The Plateau – The Plateau Native Americans lived in the area between Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. To protect themselves from the cold weather, many built homes that were partly underground.

The Great Basin – Stretching across Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, the Native Americans of the Great Basin had to endure a hot and dry climate and had to dig for a lot of their food. They were one of the last groups to have contact with Europeans.

The Southwest – The Natives of the Southwest created tiered homes made out of adobe bricks. Many of the tribes had skilled farmers, grew crops, and created irrigation canals. Famous tribes here include the Navajo Nation, the Apache, and the Pueblo Indians.

The Plains – The Great Plains Indians were known for hunting bison, buffalo and antelope, which provided abundant food. They were nomadic people who lived in teepees and they moved constantly following the herds.

Northeast – The Native Americans of the Northeast lived in an area rich in rivers and forests. Some groups were constantly on the move while others built permanent homes.

The Southeast – The majority of the Native American tribes here were skilled farmers and tended to stay in one place. The largest Native American tribe, the Cherokee, lived in the Southeast.

It is estimated that there were around one thousand languages spoken in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans.

Today, there are approximately 296 indigenous languages across North America. 269 of them are grouped into 29 families, while the remaining 28 languages are isolates or unclassified.

None of the native languages of North America had a writing system. However, the spoken languages were neither primitive nor simple. Many had grammar systems as complex as those of Russian and Latin.

There was (and is) enormous variety between the languages. Individuals from clans or tribes just one hundred miles apart may have been completely unable to communicate by speech. Neighboring tribes often used a form of sign language to communicate with each other.

According to UNESCO, most of the indigenous languages in North America are critically endangered, and many are already extinct.

In the United States, the Navajo language is the most spoken Native American language, with more than 200,000 speakers in the Southwestern United States.

Only 8 Native American languages in the United States have a population of speakers large enough to populate a medium-sized town. These are Navajo, Cree, Ojibwa, Cherokee, Dakota, Apache, Blackfoot and Choctaw.

Less than 20 Native American languages in the United States are projected to survive another 100 years.

By April Holloway. This article was originally published on Ancient Origins and has been republished with permission.


Reading Your History Book

The majority of history is captured in written text. So it's not surprising that to learn history requires a fair amount of reading. But reading more doesn't necessarily mean you'll learn more. The key is to extract the most amount of information and knowledge from your history text as possible, as efficiently as possible. History textbooks are made up of words, but not all words are equally important. By discovering the hierarchy of words you can extract up to 75 percent of a textbook's content while only reading 25 percent of the text.

Start by reading the title. The title of most history books is going to offer the most insight into the central argument of the book. For example, The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin gives you immediate insight into what the book is about, where different species of animals came from, and how they evolved. Not every title is going to be so descriptive and straight forward, but it's worth taking the time to discover why the author chose the title.

Now open up the book and review the chapter headings listed at the beginning. Depending on the type of history book you're reading, the chapter headings will most likely be organized in a chronological order of events, or in a fashion that will provide additional insight into the structure of the argument being presented. Reading the chapter headings will provide you a quick overview of what the history book is all about.

Before delving into the body of each chapter, take a few minutes to read the introduction and conclusion to the chapter. The introduction and conclusion are often the most important, and insightful, parts of the chapter. Here the author will provide a summary of the main arguments, the research presented in the chapter, and the conclusions reached. Reading the introduction and conclusion before reading the chapter body will (1) provide you a better context for understanding and interpreting the information presented and (2) help you make connections between what you read and the author's arguments. The chapter introductions and conclusions in history books may be clearly identified by a boldface heading or blank line, or simply be the first and last paragraphs of the chapter.

It's not uncommon for history books, textbooks in particular, to have chapters that are subdivided into sections organized both topically and/or chronologically. When a chapter is broken down into sections, each section is usually identified by a boldface heading followed by a blank line, or by using boldface text for the first sentence of the paragraph. Quickly reading the section headings before jumping into the body of the chapter will give you a better understanding of the main idea(s) that are presented in the chapter. Again, remember, as we pointed out previously, you want to develop an understanding of the big picture first and then work your way down to the detail.

The next level of hierarchy in most history books is the first sentence of each paragraph. The first sentence of the paragraph is used to introduce the author's main point, while the following sentences provide supporting evidence and analysis. In a typical history textbook, reading just the first sentence of each paragraph will provide a summary of the entire chapter. And don't forget to review all illustrations, including photographs, maps and charts. If the author included them, he did so for a reason.

Once you've read the title of your history book and discovered it's significance, reviewed the chapter titles at the front of the book, read the chapter heading, introduction, conclusion, section headings and first sentence of each paragraph, you'll have a good idea of the author's point of view. Now it's time to sit down and read the body text, examining key data, events, and information, in order to develop your own understanding and opinion.

As you read each chapter, try to answer the following questions:

  • What argument is the author trying to make?
  • What evidence does the author use to support her argument?
  • Is the author's argument persuasive? Why? Or why not?
  • What is important to the author?
  • Where did the author's information come from? Primary sources? Secondary sources?
  • Did most of the material presented come from just one source?
  • How does the book fit into my course?
  • Why did my professors assign this book?
  • Does the book support what I'm learning in class?
  • What do I like about the text? What don't I like? Why?

As you read, it's important to take notes. If you own your textbook and don't plan on selling it, we recommend jotting down your thoughts, ideas, and insights in the margins of each page as you read. If you don't own your book, or plan on selling it once you've read it, then you'll need to take notes elsewhere. Good notes will ensure that you'll be prepared for your next essay or exam where your knowledge, understanding and work will be tested and evaluated.


Readers’ wildlife photos

Once again I emit my call for readers’ wildlife (or street) photos, as I’m getting a bit nervous when the tank runs low.

Today we have lovely plant photos (milkweed) from reader Christopher McLaughlin. His IDs and notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

I am answering your call for some more wildlife photos. The first three are some recent plant photos from a hike around Gay Feather Prairie Conservation Area in Vernon county MO. My photos are, I hope, adequate as I have only an iPhone 11 and not a lick of artistry when it comes to photography.

Asclepias viridis, the Green Milkweed, also called Green Antelope Horns for some reason. Quite common along the roadsides and highways, so often just overlooked and mowed down. I think they are just spectacular.

For comparison, here are three photos of another species, Asclepias syriaca, the Common Milkweed, growing in my yard. Common it may be but it is still spectacular and the fragrance…!

This shows the top view of two flower as showing the corona in a textbook example for Asclepias flower morphology (I’m literally looking at a drawing of this in a wildflower book while typing and trying to make sense of it). Notice the tiny fly sitting on what is called the “horn”. We can also see the reflexed petals underneath the lower flower

Again, a close-up, but side view, showing the petals (pointing up this time, since I was looking down on the flower) as well as unopened flowers around the flower. Can you see the little line on the green bit in the middle? That’s the stigmatic slit, leading to the stigmatic chamber. Sometimes you can find insects trapped here by their legs, or the leg itself, ripped off from the insect who wasn’t strong enough to pull itself out.

Asclepias are fascinating flowers. I’m sure most readers know about monarchs laying their eggs on them and the milky latex sap that contains alkaloids and cardiac glycosides used by the butterflies and other insects as a chemical defense. But there are so many insects which are drawn to this plant that do not take up the toxins. It is quite the popular feeding site at the moment!

There is so much more I need to learn about the Asclepiadaceae and I’m not exactly the brightest bulb here, a rank amateur at best. I could spend two lifetimes studying them and not ever get tired of them but I just wish more people would appreciate them at any level and stop mowing them down. Luckily, there are several species that are easy to grow, easy to find at decent nurseries (choose your local natives, please!) and anyone with a patch of dull, boring, biologically sterile lawn can make a world of difference with a couple of plants, for yourself and your insect neighbors.


Late in the new movie The Report, Adam Driver’s Dan Jones argues with his prospective defense attorney over who really said, “History is written by the victors.” The lawyer (played by Corey Stoll) attributes the quote to Winston Churchill, but Jones counters by pointing to an earlier iteration of the sentiment by Hermann Göring, Churchill’s enemy in World War II. So: Who said it first, the victorious Churchill or the vanquished Göring?

Neither of them. At a bare minimum, Driver’s Jones is correct to point out that Göring is indeed recorded as having voiced this sentiment at the Nuremberg trials. In the original German, Göring is reported to have said, “Der Sieger wird immer der Richter und der Besiegte stets der Angeklagte sein,” which more or less translates to the quote Driver utters in the film, “The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused.”

As for Churchill, while he is strongly associated with the aphorism, as seen on inspiring Pinterest macros, at Brainy Quote, and in taunting tweets from WWE wrestlers, there’s actually no concretely documented instance in which he’s known to have uttered “History is written by the victors.” There’s a good chance part of the confusion here comes from a joke Churchill actually did say, in a speech before the House of Commons on Jan. 23, 1948: “For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself.” Churchill was apparently fond of the line, as he had been trotting out versions of it since the 1930s. He even tried another version of the witticism on Josef Stalin.

So who really coined the phrase? It was in use long before either Churchill or Göring uttered their variations. “I believe that the adage evolved over time,” says Garson O’Toole, proprietor of the indispensable site Quote Investigator. “There are versions of the saying in English, French, Italian, and German. But most of the early instances … do not contain the adage in general form. These instances are precursors.”

For example, on the mailing list of the American Dialect Society, quote researcher Ken Hirsch has pointed to instances in French from 1842 (“[L]’histoire est juste peut-être, mais qu’on ne l’oublie pas, elle a été écrite par les vainqueurs” or “[T]he history is right perhaps, but let us not forget, it was written by the victors”) and Italian from 1852 (“La storia di questi avvenimenti fu scritta dai vincitori”—or, as Hirsch translates it, “The history of these events was written by the winners”). And by 1844, as Hirsch noted, at least one of these narrower statements had made it into English. A description of defeated Maximilien Robespierre, the Jacobin hero during the French Revolution, described the state of his reputation like so: “Vanquished—his history written by the victors—Robespierre has left a memory accursed.”

But in each case these were not broad pronouncements about the nature of history itself. Those arrived toward the end of the 19 th century. For example, in 1889, as O’Toole told me, one biographer’s description of the 1746 Battle of Culloden in Scotland laments that we will never know how many members of his subject’s clan died on the battlefield, because “it is the victor who writes the history and counts the dead.”

Two years later, the saying was in use in United States. In 1891, Missouri Sen. George Graham Vest, a former congressman for the Confederacy who was still at that late date an advocate for the rights of states to secede, used the phrase in a speech, reprinted by the Kansas City Gazette and other papers on the next day, Aug. 21, 1891. “In all revolutions the vanquished are the ones who are guilty of treason, even by the historians,” Vest said, “for history is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on their side.” In other words, the world has rewritten history to credit the saying to one of the 20 th century’s greatest victors, but it’s always been very popular with history’s biggest losers.

Thanks to the editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, Fred Shapiro, and to the Quote Investigator, Garson O’Toole, for critical research into the central question of this article.


How Textbooks Can Teach Different Versions Of History

This summer there's been an intense debate surrounding the Confederate flag and the legacy of slavery in this country.

In Texas that debate revolves around new textbooks that 5 million students will use when the school year begins next month.

The question is, are students getting a full and accurate picture of the past?

Eleventh-grade U.S. history teacher Samantha Manchac is concerned about the new materials and is already drawing up her lesson plans for the coming year. She teaches at The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, a public school in Houston.

The first lesson she says she'll give her kids is how textbooks can tell different versions of history. "We are going to utilize these textbooks to some extent, but I also want you to be critical of the textbooks and not take this as the be-all and end-all of American history," she imagines telling her new students.

She doesn't want to rely solely on the brand-new texts because she says the guidelines for the books downplay some issues — like slavery — and skirt others — like Jim Crow laws.

She says it's "definitely an attempt in many instances to whitewash our history, as opposed to exposing students to the reality of things and letting them make decisions for themselves."

You might be wondering how Texas got these books in the first place, so here's a quick history lesson:

In 2010 the Texas State Board of Education adopted new, more conservative learning standards.

Among the changes — how to teach the cause of the Civil War.

One side of the debate: Republican board member Patricia Hardy said, "States' rights were the real issues behind the Civil War. Slavery was an after issue."

On the other side: Lawrence Allen, a Democrat on the board: "Slavery and states' rights."

Ultimately the state voted to soften slavery's role, among other controversial decisions, and these standards became the outline for publishers to sell books to the Texas market — the second-largest in the country.

The final materials were approved last fall after the state board did some examination and said the books get the job done.

Brian Belardi from McGraw-Hill Education, the publisher of some of the new material, agrees. "The history of the Civil War is complex and our textbook accurately presents the causes and events," he said, adding that the Texas books will not be used for the company's clients in other states.

History professor Edward Countryman isn't so sure the materials do a good job.

"What bothered me is the huge disconnect between all that we've learned and what tends to go into the standard story as textbooks tell it," says Countryman, who teaches at Southern Methodist University near Dallas and reviewed some of the new books.

He thinks the books should include more about slavery and race throughout U.S. history.

"It's kind of like teaching physics and stopping at Newton without bringing in Einstein, and that sort of thing," he says.

"The history of the United States is full of the good, the bad and the ugly, and often at the same time," says Donna Bahorich, the current chairwoman of the Texas Board of Education.

While she admits the state standards didn't specifically mention important things like Jim Crow laws, she says she's confident students will still get the full picture of history if teachers, and the new books, fill in the blanks.


A Not-So-Straight Story

Borderlines explores the global map, one line at a time.

It’s funny the way close observation can change your perception of things. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle says something like this about observing quantum particles [1] maybe borderology needs its own uncertainty principle. Consider: What is the longest straight-line international boundary? Why, that has to be the American-Canadian border between Lake of the Woods (Minnesota/Manitoba) and Boundary Bay (Washington State/British Columbia), which runs for 1,260 miles along the 49th parallel north. Right?

Nope. It may look that way on a world map. But zoom in close enough and it turns out that the straight line running along the 49th parallel north is not really on the 49th parallel north. And it isn’t straight. Like, at all. Marked by a 20-foot strip of clear-cut forest, the border may seem straight as a ruler. But as it zigzags from the first to the last of the 912 boundary monuments erected by the original surveyors, it deviates from the 49th parallel by up to several hundred feet.

Joe Burgess/The New York Times

The border was fixed in different stages during the 19th century by teams of American, Canadian and British surveyors. Back then, the seemingly simple task of drawing a straight line across a continent implied hardship and heroism, as demonstrated in 𠇊rc of the Medicine Line,” the Canadian archivist Tony Rees’s book about the final survey, from 1872 to 1874, which mapped the border between Lake of the Woods and the Continental Divide. As Mr. Rees documents, the men lacked the benefit of roads, electricity or the digital precision allowed by satellite technology as a result, on average, the markers are three arcseconds (i.e. 295 feet) north or south of the 49th parallel [2].

This page, from the Degree Confluence Project, has an interesting schematic, showing the remarkable variance between the supposed border (49 degrees north) and some of the actual survey markers between 123 degrees west and 96 degrees west (almost the entire length of the “straight line” border). As shown by this map, the markers seem actively to avoid the parallel, straying as much as 575 feet north (monuments 35-37) and 784 feet south (Monument 347) of the line.

So the �th parallel” is a failure as a straight line that should not detract from its arbitrariness. In all its imperfection, this border is a monument to the power of mind over topography. The border blithely ignores the lay of the land, slicing through rivers, valleys and mountain ranges with the ruthless precision of a 19th-century laser beam.

In fact, the straight line itself was a compromise. Following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States and Britain agreed to use the watershed between the Hudson Bay to the north and the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to the south as the border between their domains. The only problem was that much of the terrain was too flat to measure reliably which way runoff water flowed. Both sides realized the potential for conflict and chose the 49th parallel as the new demarcation, with each side winning and losing some territory.

Joe Burgess/The New York Times

Actually, the straight line was only half a compromise. The Anglo-American Convention of 1818 drew the line from Lake of the Woods to the summit of the Stony Mountains (sic) only. Brits and Yanks agreed to jointly administer the lands to the west, between the Rockies and the West Coast, for an initial period of 10 years. Overlapping claims [3] created a giant territory held in curious limbo, bounded to the north (at 54 degrees 40 minutes north) by the most extreme American claim and to the south (at 42 degrees north) by the farthest British claim. The British called it the Columbia District, the Americans the Oregon Country.

A tug of war ensued. Time was not on the British side America’s confidence and territorial appetite was growing. This was the era of Manifest Destiny, the conviction that the country should expand from sea to shining sea. James K. Polk won the 1844 presidential elections on an expansionist platform. America’s designs on all of the Oregon Country, and its willingness to use force to obtain it, were condensed in the slogan 𠇏ifty-four Forty or Fight!”

Imagine a maximalist American outcome: North America’s entire Pacific coast in American hands, up to Russian America — and including it, as the Alaska Purchase would certainly follow [4], definitively blocking British access to the Pacific. Or imagine the reverse: The British usurping Oregon Country all the way down to the northern border of California — then still Mexican — locking out America from its bicoastal destiny.

Claims, counterclaims, escalating intransigence: this was how the Balkan wars got started. Fortunately, the wisdom of Solomon eventually prevailed. Proving about 120 years early that only Nixon could go to China, President Polk, the bellicose expansionist, agreed simply to continue the border on the 49th parallel westward.

But Polk’s motive may have been pragmatic rather than pacific. The clean cut dividing Columbia from Oregon allowed America to turn its attention to its southern border. The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 resulted in a dramatic rollback of Mexico to Baja California and from the Colorado River to the Rio Grande.

After the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the western part of America’s northern border was fixed to run from the top of the Rockies to a point in the sea halfway between the mainland and Vancouver Island (thus avoiding the international border’s slicing off the island’s southern tip). In a curious coincidence, both ends of the almost-straight-line border along the 49th parallel are marked — fastened like a clothesline, you could almost say — by two curious border phenomena.

Joe Burgess/The New York Times

At the border’s western terminus, after it dips into the ocean behind the Peace Arch [5], the line crosses a peninsula before veering south to avoid Vancouver Island — the only place west of Lake of the Woods where Canada extends south of the �th parallel” border. The last, 2.5-mile-long stretch of land border between the United States and Canada separates Tsawwassen, British Columbia in the north from tiny Point Roberts, an American-administered peninsula (and thus an American exclave [6]) in the south. Residents of Point Roberts are Washingtonians, but have to pass through two international border crossings (or travel by water or air) to reach the rest of their state.

At its eastern terminus, the almost straight line bends northward to include the Northwest Angle in the United States — the only place outside Alaska where the States spills over the 49th parallel. The Angle owes its existence to the mistaken assumption, at the Treaty of Paris (1783), that the Mississippi flowed so far north that the “northwesternmost point” of Lake of the Woods could be connected to it by a westward line to the Mississippi. Quod non. Hence the borderline due south from that “northwesternmost point” when the 49th parallel was agreed upon in 1818 [7].

Joe Burgess/The New York Times

To the east of Lake of the Woods, the American-Canadian border dips south, on a more convoluted course, often following natural features — nowhere again reaching the 49th parallel [8]. On some maps the tip of Maine seems to stick out farther north, but this is mere projection (Mercatorial rather than Freudian): the state’s northernmost point, near Fort Kent, is a mere 47 degrees 27 minutes north. The 49th parallel crosses the Atlantic to touch Paris, Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) and the island of Sakhalin in Russia’s Far East. Sakhalin, like Vancouver Island stretched north to south and hugging the continental coast close to another major power, intriguingly once suffered the fate that its Canadian doppelgänger was spared. From 1905 to 1945, it was divided in a Soviet north and a Japanese south. Not along the 49th parallel — that would have been too neat — but on the 50th.

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Another (ahem) parallel: Both sets of powers divided the territories between each other irrespective of the native peoples present in those areas. In the case of Sakhalin, Japanese/Russian occupation was disastrous for the Ainu, Gilyak and other local tribes.

In the 1870s, Sioux fleeing the might of the United States Army provided the straight part of what is now sometimes known as “the longest undefended border in the world” with its most poetic epithet. Seeing how an invisible force seemed to stop the American cavalry dead in their tracks, they called that imperfectly demarcated boundary the Medicine Line.

Frank Jacobs is a London-based author and blogger. He writes about cartography, but only the interesting bits.

An earlier version of this article misidentified an island off Vancouver. It is Vancouver Island, not Victoria Island. Two of the maps misspelled the name of a body of water. It is Hudson Bay, not Huson Bay.

[1] The more you know about their direction, the less you can know about their speed. And vice versa.

[2] For more background on and the complete data for the Border Monuments on the American-Canadian border, visit the International Boundary Commission.

[3] Initially also by France, Spain and Russia.

[4] The purchase of Alaska, negotiated by Secretary of State William H. Seward in 1867, was a great real estate deal: at $7.2 million for 586,412 square miles, it works out to about 2 cents per acre. The territory was nevertheless seen as a frozen wasteland, and the buy decried as “Seward’s Folly.”

[5] Marking the “mainland terminus” of the 49th-parallel border at the crossing from Surrey, B.C. to Blaine, Wash., the Peace Arch straddles the actual border, and is the centerpiece of the adjacent Peace Arch State Park and Peace Arch Provincial Park, where one can cross freely between the American and Canadian sides (but only after clearing customs on either side).

[6] See this previous Borderlines post for the difference between exclaves and enclaves.

[7] For a discussion of two smaller American exclaves at Lake of the Woods, see Strange Maps No. 516.

[8] Although �th parallel” is often used as shorthand for the American-Canadian border, estimates based on Statistics Canada’s 2010 population figures are that almost 24 million Canadians (or about 70 percent of the population) live to the south of it.


Watch the video: Why all world maps are wrong (June 2022).

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