June 08, 2007

Burns and Americans ignore West

Commentary: Hispanics and American Indians

Other sides of the West and American historyIn taking this Eastern seaboard approach to the study of World War II, baseball and jazz, Burns reflects his East Coast roots, as well as the prejudices of many American history textbooks and survey courses.

Contemporary celebrations regarding the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown founding tend to ignore the fact that American history began well before the establishment of the first permanent English settlement.

Focusing upon 1607 as a beginning date for American history leaves out much of the American Indian experience and Spanish colonization in the Southwest.

In the grand master narrative of American history, the heroic Jamestown story is usually followed by the saga of the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England and the English colonization of the Atlantic seaboard, culminating in the American Revolution and the formation of a new experiment in representative government.

While the master narrative has expanded to include the story of women, laboring classes, American Indians and slavery in the forging of the revolution and early republic, the trans-Mississippi West really only enters the story with Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase along with the Lewis and Clark expedition which paved the path for westward expansion.

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