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"Mommy, wouldn't I have been a slave back then?":

Reconsidering history education in post-conflict societies

In this paper, I will consider the challenges of classroom-based history and social studies education in one “post conflict” society, the United States, in which contemporary inequities are deeply embedded within that nation’s history of racialized injustice. Drawing on examples from social studies classrooms and other educational settings within the U.S., the paper will highlight the ways that school-based and educative framings of United States history center whiteness and marginalize Native Peoples, African Americans and other groups within official renderings of the national story. Such approaches perpetuate a “white social studies” (Chandler and Branscombe, 2015) that protects white dominant narratives and sidesteps discussion of institutionalized racism and historical trauma.

Contemporary inability to directly confront foundational conflicts within United States history continues to permeate and shape young peoples’ educational experiences.This paper will explore common practices and activities related to social studies and history education - classroom assignments that ignore the historical perspectives of African Americans, fieldtrips eliding problematic histories, inaccurate curricular materials that “minimize or ignore the significance of racism” (Leonardo and Porter, 2010, p. 5) and approaches to historical perspective-taking that distort the relationship of European settlers and Indigneous peoples. Such approaches perpetuate misunderstandings of the nation’s history of racialized injustice and trauma, contribute to inaccurate analyses of present-day manifestations of these institutionalized forms of inequality, and exclude the perspectives of young people from marginalized communities from mainstream national discourse. Finally, I will consider ways to restructure approaches to history education that more fully and critically connect the past to the present and open up the liberatory potential of the field.