Many Thousands Failed: A Wakeup Call to History Educators

By: Andrew K. Koch

This article appeared in the May 2017 issue of Perspectives on History, published by the American Historical Association

In his essay “Many Thousands Gone,” the 20th-century novelist and social critic James Baldwin observed, “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America—or, more precisely, it is the story of Americans. It is not a very pretty story[.]” In the passage and the essay, Baldwin pointedly condemns how popular culture reinforces stereotypes of African Americans. But had he written the essay today, more than 60 years later, he could have just as easily been describing what is going on in introductory US history courses.

Because, in 2017, the story of African Americans enrolled in introductory US history courses is the story of the course itself. More precisely, it is the story of all students, particularly those from historically underrepresented backgrounds, who enroll in the course. And it, too, is not a pretty story. This may seem hyperbolic, but it is supported by evidence. CONTINUE READING