April 27, 2006

Ray Raphael , people’s historian. Real people, not paper heroes, make history. That’s why people’s history is so important — but myths we accept as truth have kept common people from assuming center stage. Ray Raphael, author of twelve books, has been a “people’s historian” for the past thirty years.

Take the Revolutionary War. Our nation owes its independence to farmers in mud-caked boots as much as to the famous “Founding Fathers” in dress suits and wigs. The United States was created not by isolated acts of individual achievement but by the revolutionary activities of people who had learned the power of collective action. This rich and very democratic heritage remains untapped because our founding myths, warmed-over morality tales conjured in the nineteenth century, have hidden it from view. His site contains some interesting material, including a Teacher's Guide, a Rate Your Textbook section (How do you know your text is telling the truth? Click on the title of a textbook, and you will see a page-by-page breakdown of the “founding myths” it perpetuates.), and yes, there will be a quiz! Also, there is a recent interview with him - steaming wma, download mp3.

  • This is really interesting, techsmith. I'm gonna try to find his books in my library. *scalds her fingers on the steaming wma*
  • Always good to have myths challenged and corrected. As for debunking the significance of the "Founding Fathers" - it's an interesting point of view. I think it's true that some historical developments happen because of an underlying large-scale social or political movement, with the leaders more or less riding the wave: but not all of them. If you go too far in that direction you end up like Tolstoy, madly asserting that Napoleon had no influence on the course of history and that thousands of Frenchmen decided independently to fight their way to Moscow. With hindsight it is obvious that North America was not going to be ruled from Westminster indefinitely. But I'm not sure that the particular War of Independence which actually took place was inevitable. Franklin, if I remember rightly, thought the whole thing could and should have been avoided; and my impression is that more effective British commanders would have found the war quite winnable, at least in the short term (not that I know anything about it, really). So my guess is that, with due recognition to the mud-caked ones, Washington and co really did shape the course of history, for better or worse. Probably somewhat for the worse, all in all.
  • "With hindsight ... my impression is that more effective British commanders would have found the war quite winnable" I think you're absolutley right, but I think that Ray Raphael is specifically talking about before the war started... the pressures of the common people being all but completely overlooked. Plus I really liked learning about how these myths developed and how rediculous some of them are (e.g. the "midnight ride of Paul Revere"). The interview is about 50 minutes, worth the time if one can spare it :)