After grading 85 essays over Spring Break about the issue of bias in representations of slavery, it was all I could do to read more about it. However, as the article on the “Founding Fathers” class illustrates, this is such a relevant issue today with the rise of the Tea Party, etc. that it is hard to escape.
The “They Have Blood on Their Hands” post would have received a B from me for some unnecessarily inflammatory editorializing, but it did raise an important point about how the “pro-South” advocates make slavery out to be a minor issue when discussing the Civil War and its memory. My students were assigned to read a web page run by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in order to write their essays, and I was surprised that many of them did not seem to question the source’s bias at all (to re-emphasize last week’s point about how easy “lying about the past” is, especially on the web). I agree with LauriAnn that peer review is crucial to the accuracy of the text and integrity of the author. However, when the general public does not place a high value on the integrity of the source (it was a professor who discovered the error in the textbook), it is hard to see how more peer review will solve the greater issue at hand.
Another obstacle to promoting general historical literacy is the lack of resources that those with scholarly integrity are equipped with to pursue this goal. One of the comments to the Munchausen blog post noted that museum interpreters are often volunteers, and historic sites can not always afford to hire experts in the field. The power of public history is that it puts historical interpretation into the hands of the public; this can be either an asset or a detriment to the study of history.