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History Guide

U.S. Historical Timeline

Colonial Settlement, 1600s - 1763

The American Revolution, 1763 - 1783

The New Nation, 1783 - 1815

National Expansion & Reform, 1815 - 1880

Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877

National Expansion and Reform, 1815 - 1880

Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877

Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900

Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929

Great Depression & World War II, 1929-1945

The Post-War United States, 1945-1968

 Cold War, 1947–1953

Cold War, 1953–1962

Civil Rights Movement, 1954 - 1968 

Vietnam War, 1955 - 1975

Moments That Changed America

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Catches Fire - March 25, 1911

The Great Migration Begins - 1915 

The Prophet Is Published - September 23, 1923 

Thomas Dorsey Invents the Gospel Blues - 1932

Harry Hopkins Starts Work - May 22, 1933

FDR Accepts the 1936 Democratic Presidential Nomination - June 27, 1936

Hugo Black Is Appointed to the Supreme Court - August 19, 1937

Truman Replaces Wallace - July 21, 1944

The North Atlantic Treaty Is Signed - April 4, 1949

Barbara Johns Walks Out - April 23, 1951

Emmett Till Is Murdered - Aug. 28, 1955

The Birth Control Pill Is Approved - May 9, 1960

The Children March in Birmingham - May 2, 1963

Thich Quang Duc's Self-Immolation Is Broadcast - June 11, 1963

Howard Smith Amends the Civil Rights Act - Feb. 8, 1964

Ronald Reagan Speaks to Conservatives - Oct. 27, 1964

The Immigration and Nationality Act Is Signed - Oct. 3, 1965

Alcatraz Is Occupied - Nov. 20, 1969

Affirmative Action Goes Unchallenged - Oct. 12, 1971

California Passes Proposition 13 - June 6, 1978

The Embassy in Tehran Is Occupied - Nov. 4, 1979

The Pneumocystis Pneumonia Report - June 5, 1981

The Americans With Disabilities Act Is Signed - July 26, 1990

The 1994 Midterm Elections Go to the Republicans - Nov. 8, 1994

(Text adapted from Time, 2015)

What is History?

History is an academic discipline that examines the past. As an applied critical approach for public policy development, it traces present conditions in human society and outlines future alternatives—considering likely societal and technological changes. The most famous historical theme for centuries was war and related issues of military conquest and governance, and many European authors, typically writing from a Eurocentric perspective, disproportionately focused on ancient history, particularly Greece and Rome. The discipline evolved slowly in Europe as the continent saw increasing literacy, education, exploration, and travel. In a trend that grew during the twentieth century, the study of history expanded its focus to include deeper examinations of civilizations and societal issues. Sociology, demography, geography, political science, economics, anthropology, and many other fields contributed to the growing breadth of the discipline.

Perspective and context are essential processes in analyzing history: viewing actions by the standards of their times and acknowledging influences on the author's (and reader's) thinking. In addition to multidisciplinary and self-critical approaches, public history, which typically involves activities outside everyday academic practices or conducted by people not involved in academia, has impacted the field. In many Western societies, starting in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, historians broadened their scope beyond studies of war and significant figures to include examinations of social movements, popular history, and other emerging disciplines. A future challenge will be attracting larger audiences through videography, storytelling, genealogy, and new and evolving forms of media.

The first known Western history practitioners, Herodotus (c. 484–425 BCE) and Thucydides (c. 460–400 BCE) are still widely remembered for their accounts of Ancient Greece. Breaking from oral tradition and writing for their contemporaries, the Greek authors thus became accountable for their facts or opinions. Later history of ancient Eurasia can be gleaned from early Roman writers, such as Cicero (c. 107–43 BCE), who offered a different perspective. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, these written histories became valuable, if flawed, written records of ancient European societies.

Towards the end of the first millennium CE, modern universities emerged in the Islamic world in the Middle East and North Africa. The oldest continually operating university in the world, the University of Al-Qarawiyyin, was founded in 859 CE in Fez, Morocco; institutions in other Islamic cities, including Baghdad, Iraq, were founded in subsequent centuries. By the height of the Middle Ages, universities also began to develop in Europe, and some of the continent's earliest and most enduring universities were founded in Bologna (1088), Oxford (c. 1187), and Paris (c. 1170, later known as the Sorbonne). Welsh historian Jan Morris described Oxford as a "fully-fledged medieval university" with a seven-year general MMaster'sprogram. Its curriculum boasted: "the Seven Liberal Arts . . . The Three Philosophies . . . The Two Tongues."History was not explicitly mentioned as part of the curriculum. Latin surfaced as the "lingua franca" or common language; Greek and Hebrew were formally taught. Over time, knowledge of these languages declined in importance among Western historians.

In Western history studies, the 1770 publication of English historian Edward Gibbon'sThe History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is considered a landmark event. Consisting of six volumes detailing the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, GGibbon'swork contains hundreds of footnotes and incorporates many primary sources, both critical features of modern academic works. Gibbon also detailed about non-European nationalities and territories contained within the Roman Empire.

Public history, which involves activities outside regular academic historical studies or actions conducted by people typically not engaged in academia, grew in importance in the US in the second half of the twentieth century. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 mandates that proposed physical or structural changes to historic structures must be accompanied by careful review. When cultural resources are threatened, teams of archaeologists, preservationists, and historians (often content experts) are contracted to produce environmental impact statements or reports outlining alternative plans. This process has expanded local and regional history, though the studies may be challenging to acquire because of related goals, such as site protection (also legislated). Even if that is not an issue, the reports are often published in small quantities and narrowly distributed.

The rise of public history in the second half of the twentieth century reflected a growing interest on the part of historians to increase the breadth of their focus. English historian Arnold J. Toynbee's twelve-volume A Study of History (p. 1934–61) delved into civilizations, historical ages, and renaissances. Prepared with only a bachelor's degree, American historian Barbara W. Tuchman, author of the widely read The Guns of August (1962), enticed general audiences by presenting interesting details on far-ranging subjects relating to the start of World War I. Another American historian, David McCullough, became famous for his in-depth analyses of singular events (such as the 1889 Johnstown flood) and historical figures (Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman). The narrative style of such authors is sometimes disparaged by academic historians who publish more often in professional specialty journals or through university presses. Some scholars and journalists cross boundaries from teaching to popular nonfiction and back again. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, historical biographies, which began to shift away from their disproportionate focus on White and male figures, also started to give readers increasingly personalized perspectives of historical eras through people who typified—or were out of sync with—their times.

A growing trend in historical research is specialization or microhistory. Discipline on all sides may erode the meeting ground between historians and their prospective audiences. In CCalifornia'spublic school system, history is fused with other social sciences during the elementary school years. The subject does not formally enter the curriculum until the sixth grade, reducing its potential for early—and sometimes lifelong—engagement. Unification may lie in contemporary media, which have the potential to build large audiences and require a different investment of time than hefty history books. Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in his television series, Finding Your Roots (2012–), expands the sometimes insular field of genealogy, first by using celebrity guests willing to plunge into their past, then introducing a range of topics, such as the Greek Revolution of 1821, Mexican cattle ranching, and many others. Documentarian Ken Burns has tackled the issues of the US Civil War (1861–1865), baseball, and the National Park Service in his documentary films with considerable breadth, using pictures like earlier historians' published illustrated history books.

Historical revisionism is also an essential aspect of contemporary historical studies. At its most basic level, historical revisionism involves reexamining existing facts and sources to derive a new historical interpretation and understanding of what happened based on either new data or a new perspective. When existing historical arrangements are affected by biases such as sexism, Eurocentrism, or racism, historical revisionism can help develop an interpretation free of such bigotry and reframe events in a more inclusive and possibly more accurate way. Historical revisionism is also essential for historians to incorporate newly discovered data or information. However, historical revisionism can also rewrite history to pursue political or nationalist agendas and fuel conspiracy theories such as Holocaust denial (Text adapted from EBSCO, 2022).

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