Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Nathan Godfried

Second Committee Member

Matthew Warshauer

Third Committee Member

Liam Riordan

Additional Committee Members

Mary Freeman

Richard Judd


This dissertation examines the 19th century legacy of white supremacy in United States History high school textbooks authored by six early 20th century white academics subject to the societal and professional influences of Civil War reconciliationism and the constraints and opportunities of their newly professionalized field. Employing a case study approach, it focuses on textbook content in four areas: slavery, abolitionism, Civil War causation, and Reconstruction within the context of five parameters: contemporaneous historiography, accepted professional practices for researching and writing history, continuity – or lack thereof – across multiple revisions, and between textbook content and the individual academic scholarship of the authors. It also considers influences potentially attributable to the authors’ educational, professional, and personal backgrounds. The ubiquitous presence of toxic white supremacy in history textbooks of this period is a given, and the goal of this study is certainly not to exonerate their authors. But it does question the pat assumption that a highly racist society simply produced highly racist textbooks. It seeks, then, to determine if academic textbook authors were working within the accepted professional practices of their time or if white supremacy was advanced through deliberate abuse of the historical record. Answering this question creates a three-pronged objective. First, to determine if the treatment of slavery, abolitionism, Civil War causation and Reconstruction differed appreciably from title to title, and, if so, to what might the differences be attributed. Second, to evaluate the usefulness of Dutch ethicist Antoon de Baets’ “Theory of the Abuse of History” in identifying and categorizing irresponsible and abusive history in secondary source-based textbooks. And, finally, to determine if works by diverse authors demonstrate common, overarching history abuse intended specifically to advance white supremacy. The long-term legacy of these textbooks speaks to the obligation of assigning responsibility to all those who have worked against racial equality. Overall, this case study seeks to broaden the historiography for deeper, more critical understanding of early 20th century history education, the legacy of which endures within systemic contemporary racism.

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