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Article Published November 18, 2020

History Wonderful and Wicked

By Edward Peters

Much encouraged by my local fellow-citizens’ recent admirable letters in support of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Freeman’s call for the teaching of “hard history” in the Guilford schools, I must point out that hard history is the only kind of real history that there is. Every other version of the past is only comfort history, accounts that serve not to inform, but to comfort and influence those to whom it is taught, to make better citizens or a docile work force in the service of a present ideology, whether left or right.

The hard history of the U.S. is not exclusively the story of the oppression of non-White human beings, but the full account (omitting and inventing nothing) of everything that happened in our past, wonderful and wicked, that contributes to the accurate depiction of what the U.S. was, has been, and is, and how it all happened. Comfort history is the instrumentalization of the past for present purposes. Hard history must also be tested again and again as the work of professionally trained scholars raises and proposes answers to questions that arise out of their tireless research and the questions of readers and students. Historical method is also a basic component of hard history, and that is what Dr. Freeman also wisely proposes in the Guilford curriculum.

As a professional historian for more than half a century, now retired but still doing some of that research mentioned above, I find the idea of hard history in the curriculum of the Guilford schools inspiring, and I wish it and its teachers and students all the best.

Edward Peters