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Evaluating Major Historical Issues & Events From Diverse Perspectives

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  • 0:01 Different Perspectives
  • 1:15 Examples
  • 2:56 The Danger of Singular…
  • 4:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Ever watched a football game with someone who was cheering for the other team and disagreed on the validity of a call? Then you've encountered the same problem historians find with diverse perspectives.

Different Perspectives

Let's say your school was playing its cross-town rival on Friday night for the district championship in football. Late in the fourth quarter, a penalty flag is thrown by an official, and it just cost your team 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. It seems the official thought one of your players pushed one of his opponents. Cheers go up from across the field, but on your side there is nothing but boos. After all, couldn't the official see that the opposing player tripped? As the game progresses, every call, or lack of a call, that doesn't go to your team's favor is accompanied by suggestions that the officials should visit the local optometrist.

While a great deal could be said about bias, the fact is that everyone at the game is coming from the same event with a different perspective of events. Historical perspective is just like that of a sports fan, as it shows how a set population chooses to remember a set of events. Now, this doesn't necessarily make one perspective absolutely right or absolutely wrong, but it does mean that historians always have to be on the lookout for when the perspectives of others, or even their own, obscure the truth.

Examples of Different Perspectives

When your great-grandparents were in school, they were very likely taught a very different version of historical events about slavery in the American South than we were. That's because for the longest time, history books only included the perspective of the people writing them, not the perspective of other people. These writers had been led to believe that the slaves were actually quite happy on the plantations and that the majority of slave-owners treated their slaves extraordinarily well. Obviously, through examining those same events through different perspectives, namely those of the slaves fortunate enough to escape and learn to write about their experiences, we know that was simply not the case.

However, it's not just your ancestors who are taught different perspectives. As Americans, many of us are taught that American soldiers freed Western Europe from the Nazis. After all, American forces took part in D-Day and fought into Germany. However, not every country sees it like that. Again, this is a matter of different perspectives. The French, for example, teach that since it was the Free French army that first entered Paris, then surely they played a major role in freeing Europe. From their perspective, Paris was the soul of France, and by freeing it, they had dealt a serious blow to the Nazi cause.

Likewise, Russian history considers the war in the West to be a minor front. Tens of millions of Russian and German soldiers fought each other in Eastern Europe, and it was the Russians who ultimately captured Berlin, so they are taught that they ended the war. The same final event - in this case, the destruction of the Nazi regime - happened, but no one could decide on who did it.

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