Percy's History Textbook Project
Representations of Homosexuality in College-Level American History Textbooks: A Preliminary Survey
by Lewis Gannett with the assistance of William A. Percy III
Our schools and colleges have a responsibility to teach history for its own sake…and not degrade history by allowing its contents to be dictated by pressure groups, whether political, economic, religious, or ethnic. …
Above all, history can give a sense of national identity.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Disuniting of America
The major themes in black history were all present in women's history: overcoming historical neglect; stressing the contributions of the group; an emphasis on oppression, with its troublesome complement, victimization and damage; a search for foreparents in protest and resistance; finally a celebration of an at least semiautonomous separate cultural realm, with distinctive values and institutions.
Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession
Unified accounts of the nation splintered into the African-American version, the women's version, the Latino version, the gay and lesbian version, and so on. American history had become, as a New York Times article put it, the "Humpty Dumpty of scholarship."
Joseph Moreau, Schoolbook Nation: Conflicts over American History Textbooks from the Civil War to the Present
In making the observation quoted above, Joseph Moreau wasn't expressing his own anxiety about the condition of American history teaching. He was summarizing a sense of panic, widely felt from the 1970s into the 1990s among old-guard scholars and conservatives, that the social tumult of the 1960s had spawned a dangerous trend in historiography. The so-called "New History," according to this view, had abandoned the traditional vision of a unitary cultural heritage in favor of widely divergent minority perspectives. If unchecked, the trend would fracture America's self-image. It would create a national identity crisis, enfeeble the collective spirit, vitiate what it means to be an American.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. endorsed that outlook in his The Disuniting of America (1991). Moreau quotes from it: Instead of a transformative nation with an identity all its own, America in this new light is seen as a preservation of diverse alien identities. Instead of a nation composed of individuals making their own unhampered choices, America increasingly sees itself as composed of groups more or less ineradicable in their ethnic character. The multiethnic dogma abandons historic purposes, replacing assimilation by fragmentation, integration by separatism. It belittles unum and glorifies pluribus.
Thus did Schlesinger declare his opposition to identity politics in the writing of history--except, that is, for a politics based on one, all-inclusive "national identity." Moreau notes that he had derided "Afrocentric" efforts to educate black children with "a questionable history of racial uplift… Employing history to build racial pride would ultimately prove self-defeating, according to Schlesinger, because it would corrode faith in professional objectivity. 'The use of history as therapy means the corruption of history as history,' he warned."
History as therapy? Here Moreau might have pointed out an obvious and quite amusing contradiction. Schlesinger saw no irony in his own mental-health metaphor, implicit in his claim that "history can give a sense of national identity." Indeed, the old Camelot hand and celebrated author of The Age of Jackson comes off as a self-appointed national shrink diagnosing an alarmingly disturbed patient. Instead of having "an identity all its own," America was wracked with "diverse alien identities"--a case of assimilation v. fragmentation, integration v. separatism. Multiple personalities run amok! But the good doctor had a cure. If America heeded "professional objectivity," the patient would return to wholeness.
To Schlesinger, teaching American history with objectivity required the teaching of a kind of celebratory nationalism, with emphasis on what binds the public together and avoidance of what drives the public apart. In other words, objectivity required the minimization of conflict as a fundamental aspect of American political culture. This sounds very much like history as therapy; it certainly points to the corruption of history as history.
To be fair, one must concede that the liberationist movements of the sixties and seventies--black liberation, women's lib, gay lib, the American Indian Movement, and others--were led by angry, often avowedly separatist activists. Not all practitioners of the "New History" marched in the streets with them; but some did. An eminent historian like Schlesinger had reason to be suspicious. If these radicals were fighting for various causes, if their agendas were overtly political, then how could they make objective historical judgments? Especially if their goals included, as was clearly the case, enhanced self-esteem? A defiant "pride" was central to all of the liberation movements: black, women's, gay, Native American, Hispanic.
The problem however with the brand of objectivity that Schlesinger and many of his fellow "Old History" colleagues championed was that it wasn't, of course, at all objective. What eventually would become African American Studies, Women's Studies, LGBTQ Studies, Native American Studies, Latino Studies, Asian American Studies and so on may have seemed undisciplined, fractious, arrogant, and above all, unscholarly. But they were on to something, the fact that mainstream history had ignored or slighted or grossly distorted their respective histories. Schlesinger, overlooking the fact that similar conflicts had long been a major factor in American culture--for example, anti-Catholic bigotry of the 19th century--did not want to hear any of that. Moreau supplies an apt metaphor: Schlesinger argues that militant multiculturalists use history as a weapon. But the corollary is that for him history is a fortress, one that guards the valuables previous generations have acquired, however heroically or shamefully. Claims that history has only recently become politicized make sense only when we present bodies of knowledge as objective or self-evident and erase records of struggle that put them in classrooms and textbooks in the first place.
The besieged "old" historians were incapable of seeing that perspectives were changing for legitimate reasons. A paradigm shift had caught them unawares. The partisanship of the new scholarship notwithstanding, it made it plain that establishment scholarship was itself plenty iffy. It excluded far too much.
Nowhere was this more true, and continue to this day to be true, than in the case of homosexuality. Of all the American minorities whose histories establishment history had slighted, only homosexuals confronted the fact that their past was-- literally--invisible. Accounts of it simply did not exist in a codified and accessible form. On one level the reasons are obvious. Apart from legal records that only fairly recently have received some attention, same-sex eros left few traces in institutional record keeping. Moreover, to the extent that a "homosexual identity" existed prior to the naming of the concept late in the 19th century, individuals possessing any sense of that identity had strong incentives not to advertise it.
On another level however the question of invisibility is perhaps not so obvious. It would seem that authorities in charge of record keeping did not want to see homosexuality. Why not? The answers no doubt are complex. But a thought experiment might help to define the issue. Why is it that American history textbook writers do not identify even one president, vice president, cabinet secretary, senior military officer, supreme court justice, senator, congressman, state governor, or head of a major government agency as homosexual or bisexual? Because no one who held those offices was in fact homosexual, bisexual? Given Alfred Kinsey's statistics, that's not likely. One might claim that Kinsey has been discredited; he "inflated his numbers." Not so, according to an important recent study. In it ten percent of the sample's 4,200 men--married, self-identifying as heterosexual--reported leading exclusively same-sex sex lives. This may seem preposterous. But as Kinsey demonstrated, much about the reality of sexual behavior defies conventional belief. Could it be that--until, say, 1983, --all homosexuals or bisexuals who held important government offices were able to conceal their sexuality, totally and irretrievably, perhaps with the help of heirs or other reputation protectors? In my opinion that too does not seem likely.
I would suggest that one reason history textbooks indicate that American political and military leaders have all been "Kinsey 0's"--exclusively heterosexual--has had to do with unconscious and perhaps very conscious decisions on the part of historians not to pursue evidence that might indicate a contrary reality.
It's a difficult case to prove, of course. But some evidence is at hand: the evolution of the representation of homosexuality in American history textbooks. A final prefatory note is germane. In recent decades history textbook authors have had evidence that a number of important American officeholders were or are primarily homosexual. With regard to their sexuality, however, the names James Buchanan, James Garfield, William Rufus de Vane King, Eleanor Roosevelt (officeholder ex officio), J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph McCarthy, David Walsh, Robert Bauman, Jon Hinson, Gerry Studds, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, James McGreevey, and others are not characterized as homosexual in any of the textbooks included in this study. There is one exception. Paul Johnson, in his A History of the American People (1999), discusses the rumored homosexuality of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Johnson possesses another distinction as well. He is the only non-American author here considered. Did the fact that he is English give him the nerve to enter taboo territory? Perhaps so.
"Old History" and Homosexuality
Through much of the 20th century producers of American history textbooks entirely excluded homosexuality from their works. Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager in 1930 published the first edition of The Growth of the American Republic, a classic text that went through seven editions. The seventh, published in 1980 with an additional coauthor, William E. Leuchtenburg, in its index does not include the words homosexuals, lesbians, gay. Oscar Handlin in 1968 published The History of the United States, another popular staple in college history departments. Its index likewise does not include the words homosexuals, lesbians, gay.
In 1963 John M. Blum, William S. McFeely, Edmund S. Morgan, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Kenneth M. Stampp, and C. Vann Woodward published The National Experience: A History of the United States. The sixth edition appeared in 1985. Its index cites "Homosexuality," which takes the reader to one paragraph. While brief, the paragraph is in some ways remarkable. It mentions the decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of diseases and notes that "Members of Congress confessed to homosexuality[.]" Many of the textbooks here examined, including some of the most recent, do not mention the APA decision, and only Blum et al. mention homosexuals in Congress (without naming names). The general tone of the paragraph does however convey uneasiness about the increased visibility of homosexuals. The last sentence: "Homosexual themes became so aggressive in the arts that one observer complained, 'The love that dare not speak its name just won't shut up these days.'" In 1977 Bernard Bailyn, Robert Dallek, David Brion Davis, David Herbert Donald, John L. Thomas, and Gordon S. Wood published The Great Republic: A History of the American People. The authors became widely seen as worthy successors to Morison & Commager. Their book went through four editions; the most recent, issued in 1992, includes in its index "Gay rights movement," the sole reference to homosexuality apart from one brief mention of AIDS in this hefty tome. The citation takes the reader to a paragraph that notes gay-rights gains and ends with the observation that AIDS "in the eighties revived and intensified feelings in the society against persons practicing alternative sexual lifestyles."
That Morison & Commager issued a textbook in 1930 with no mention of homosexuality is not surprising; homosexuality was considered a degeneracy that polite people did not discuss. For their book to be reissued, revised, in 1980 with no mention of homosexuality--more than six years after the American Psychiatric Association had removed homosexuality from its list of mental diseases--is perhaps at first thought also not very surprising. One might conclude that the franchise had by that time become such an old war horse that even the addition of a younger coauthor was unlikely to bring it up to speed. Should Handlin be faulted for ignoring the subject in his 1968 textbook? The landmark Stonewall riots didn't occur until a year later, and for some time thereafter were not considered particularly historic. One might explain Handlin's omission with the thought that like most established professionals of his generation who were not closeted gays, he probably considered homosexuality an insignificant subject.
It is somewhat less easy to understand the cases of Blum et al. and Bailyn et al. In six editions the Blum franchise ran from 1963 to 1985; in four editions the Bailyn franchise ran from 1977 to 1992. The period between 1963 to 1992 saw greatly increased homosexual visibility as the gay rights movement achieved a number of gains and garnered unprecedented media coverage, which intensified from the early '80s onward as the dimensions of the AIDS catastrophe became more clear. Bailyn et al. and Blum et al., each with one paragraph, give a nod to that, but only a nod. The Blum team included Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who as noted above found the "New History" dismaying. He was however a noted liberal, as was his equally distinguished coauthor, C. Vann Woodward. The Bailyn team, which included the historian David Herbert Donald, also held exceptional academic credentials. With such towering figures relegating homosexuality to one paragraph as late as 1992, the prognosis for lesbians and gays in American history textbooks did not look good.
"New History" and Homosexuality
Peter Novick in a quote at the top of this piece identifies parallel themes between black studies and women's studies. I believe the themes also apply to lesbian and gay studies (and to other minority studies as well). In the following I will use Novick's schema to identify significant components of lesbian and gay scholarship, and will contrast that scholarship with what does or does not appear in textbooks.
"Overcoming historical neglect," the first theme, is a hurdle lesbian and gay scholars have only begun to surmount despite having made substantial contributions to the record. Producers of American history textbooks have acknowledged that scholarship very sparingly. John D'Emilio and George Chauncey crop up by name in a small number of texts. Charley Shively, the first scholar definitively to prove that Walt Whitman was homosexual, and the first to present compelling evidence that Abraham Lincoln and even (gasp!) George Washington were homosexual, is nowhere cited (a particularly egregious slighting; Shively's research and reasoning are of the highest order). Blanche Wiesen Cook's portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt's love affair with Lorena Hickok is unmentioned. Lillian Faderman's To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America--A History appears nowhere in the texts. Jonathan Ned Katz, editor of Gay American History and author of Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality, is similarly ignored. C. A. Tripp, who followed Shively's lead and owes much to him, published The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln in 2005, perhaps too recently for it to have surfaced in textbooks. Given the hostile reception it received from many historians, its appearance in textbooks does not seem imminent. But progress has been made. Vicki L. Eaklor of Alfred University found in a 1991 study that only three textbooks contained "more than a paragraph" on lesbian/gay history. In a 2003 follow-up study she found that coverage had considerably expanded, a refreshing reality that will be noted below.
Novick's second theme gives the first one a rationale: "Stressing the contributions of the group." Despite the oft-heard complaint that homosexuals constantly claim that "many of the great figures in history were gay," American history textbook writers show little evidence of having taken note. One of the textbooks consulted for this study hints that Walt Whitman was homosexual; two state matter of factly that he was, and of those one also names Horatio Alger; all the others remain silent about Whitman's sexuality, even while in some cases mentioning that many contemporary readers of his poetry found the sexual themes in it shocking. Allen Ginsberg surfaces as gay in one textbook. Roy Cohn is portrayed as gay in two textbooks; one of those texts, as already mentioned (Paul Johnson's) also suggests that Joe McCarthy was gay. Otherwise, the textbooks name not one "important" homosexual American. The category does not exist. Of the 20th-century officeholders named above, perhaps only Eleanor Roosevelt (ex officio), Hoover, and McCarthy can be considered historically important in their own right. But Gerry Studds, who in 1983 became the first congressman to acknowledge his homosexuality, arguably established a significant milestone. The textbook authors reviewed here do not agree.
The third Novick theme and by far the most loaded is, "An emphasis on oppression, with its troublesome complement, victimization and damage." Lesbian and gay scholars have done a very good job of documenting oppression, which perhaps in part accounts for the fact that the textbooks register it, although with varying levels of expertise. For example, only one textbook mentions by name Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 Supreme Court decision that upheld a Georgia law criminalizing sodomy as a felony punishable by up to twenty years in prison. Only a few textbooks note that until 1973 homosexuals were officially classified as diseased by the American Psychiatric Association. Two discuss and one briefly mentions the McCarthy-era witch-hunt for homosexuals in the federal government, a campaign that ruined the lives of far more people than did the hunt for communists; yet, the former has been largely forgotten while the latter remains well known. None of the textbooks discusses the fact that to this day, many American states do not have statutes protecting homosexuals from employment discrimination.
Then there is theme three's "troublesome complement," victimization and damage. "Oppression" pretty much covers victimization, although with less of a self-pitying tang. "Damage" is another story. As Novick notes, the liberationist movements that led to the institutionalization of black studies and women's studies did not focus on damage. They did not want to be perceived as weak; they emphasized pride and power. The same was true of the gay-lib impetus behind lesbian and gay studies. Activist Frank Kameny coined the slogan, "Gay is Good." No one in the ranks wanted to hear, "Gays are Damaged Goods." As with blacks and women, homosexuals were justifiably disgusted with that message having been the prevailing view throughout centuries of American history.
But the question of damage has persisted, in ways that entered the academy and to this day are boiling over. Harvard president Larry Summers lost his job after speculating that innate gender differences may account for the paucity of women stars in the hard sciences; feminist Harvard faculty members countered with the charge that sexist acculturation, not genes, explains the male/female disparity. The American black intelligentsia is in an impassioned uproar over the state of black manhood: "gangsta" culture, deserted mothers, bereft kids with no role models. The question of how legacies of oppression continue to blight the lives of women and blacks is of course subject to debate. But perceptions of damage are very much in the air.
Lesbian and gay scholars have addressed the question of damage in number of ways. One issue concerns the higher-than-average suicide rate among gay adolescents. This has been linked to homophobia in general, to a lack of affirmative information in particular--for example, the absence of role models in the teaching of American history. The issue recently erupted when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation that State Senator Sheila Kuehl had shepherded through the state senate and assembly to ban textbooks that portray lesbians and gays in a negative light. In the face of intense opposition from conservative groups Kuehl had significantly diluted an earlier version that required state schools to adopt textbooks with material on the contributions of lesbians and gays in American history.
Insofar as I know, however, lesbians and gays in academia have not pointed to historical oppression as a source of lasting damage to homosexual adults, especially to those who came of age after the entrenchment of gay lib. The overwhelming focus has been on the fitness of homosexuals to hold security clearances, teach, serve in the military, have or adopt children, marry, to do all the things that "normal" and "well-adjusted" people do. But if the black and women precedents are any guide, diagnoses of damage may be coming. Outside of academia they already have: Larry Kramer, the founding father of AIDS activism, shortly before the advent of AIDS issued a blistering denunciation of self-destructive gay behavior in the form of a novel, Faggots (1977). Quite recently Kramer followed up with a public speech, "The Tragedy of Today's Gays," which flagged drug use and unsafe sex as rampant ongoing problems. Is such behavior a legacy of oppression? Kramer lays primary blame on the irresponsibility of individuals, not on history. But this is open to debate.
What do the textbooks make of damage? With regard to AIDS, the authors for the most part discuss the epidemic dispassionately. But diagnostic tones creep in. George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi in America: A Narrative History (2000) and James Kirby Martin et al. in America and Its Peoples (2001) quote Patrick Buchanan's statement, made while he was the Reagan White House's director of communications, that homosexuals had "declared war on nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution." Martin et al. conclude, "[M]any Americans today will no doubt continue to place their hopes on education and on the search for new medical advances with which to eradicate AIDS, debating all the while whether those who contract the disease should be pitied or condemned." Joseph R. Conlin in The American Past (2007) asserts that in the 1990s "public health authorities no longer described it [AIDS] as a threat to only junkies and homosexuals" because it "was not politically correct to do so" and because scientists would have trouble securing grants to study a disease afflicting "groups on which conventional Americans looked with distaste." Conlin is speaking of 1990s attitudes but makes no effort to provide context by noting that heterosexual black women at the time of his writing (as late as 2006) had long since become hugely at risk for AIDS.
One particular topic concerning damage that textbook authors mostly avoid: the 1950s witch-hunt for homosexuals in the federal government sparked in part by a homosexual, Senator Joseph McCarthy. Alleged Communists serving in sensitive government positions were the main focus of McCarthy's crusade. But his charge that subversives riddled Washington, D.C. quickly metastasized into the notion that homosexuals in government also posed a grave threat. Other key figures in this scare included J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn, who also were gay, and Cohn's young protégé, G. David Schine, probably also gay. As David K. Johnson has shown, the hunt for Communists led to zero convictions but the hunt for homosexuals brought the firings of thousands of people, notably including Frank Kameny. McCarthy, perhaps sensing that if he pushed that particular hunt too far he might himself wind up as quarry, did not claim that he possessed lists of large numbers of homosexuals, a claim he did make with regard to alleged communists. But he repeatedly characterized officials, especially in the State Department, as "effete," a clear-enough code word. Although some might disagree it is perhaps self-evident that homophobic homosexuals are damaged homosexuals. McCarthy and his cohorts Cohn and Hoover would seem to provide textbook cases, so to speak.
Only two texts under review here discuss the gay tinge of the leadership of one of the most hateful episodes in American history. The more frank of them was written by an Englishman, Paul Johnson, a self-avowedly conservative scholar and an exuberant fan of American political culture (much in the mode of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.). Johnson characterizes McCarthy, Cohn, and Schine as gay. The American team of Garraty and Carnes identify Cohn as gay, but not McCarthy. Their coverage of the 1950s homo-hunt is however impressive, especially given the fact that all their fellow American textbook authors except one omit any reference to the topic. This will be further discussed in the Conclusion of this piece.
Novick's fourth theme is "a search for foreparents in protest and resistance." While homosexuals do not have a Nat Turner or a Frederick Douglass to hearken back to in the 19th century, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton stand out. Educated American homosexuals could find some solace in the literature of classical antiquity. The ancients did not however offer a model for organized political resistance. Neither did Oscar Wilde, whose fate came as more of a cautionary tale than as a blueprint for action. But the 20th century delivered a number of impressively steely souls, from the fifties to the eighties and beyond. Lesbian and gay scholars have documented them in considerable detail. The textbooks examined here have not followed through. Only two mention the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis; none mentions the founders. In fact, not one gay-rights activist is named, and no AIDS activists are named. One textbook mentions ACT UP in the caption of a photo depicting a policeman pinning a young protester to pavement, and another briefly mentions ACT UP; nowhere in any of the others is this important activist group noted. Indeed, the only names that appear in connection with AIDS are Ronald Reagan, C. Everett Koop, Pat Buchanan, Rock Hudson, George Herbert Walker Bush, and in one instance, Admiral James Watkins.
Novick's fifth and final theme is "celebration of an at least semiautonomous separate cultural realm, with distinctive values and institutions." Reading through the textbooks one gets no idea whatever of the variety of organizations dedicated to lesbian and gay issues. The fact that almost every profession has a lesbian and gay association, for example, is nowhere noted. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Human Rights Campaign, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, many others: nowhere noted.
Vicki L. Eaklor, professor of history at Alfred University, in the summer and fall of 2003 studied the homosexual content of twenty-seven American history survey textbooks published for the college-level educational market. This followed up an earlier study Eaklor had made between 1988 and 1991. She presented her more recent findings at a panel discussion sponsored by the Committee on Lesbian and Gay History during a meeting of the American Historical Association. "The news, surprisingly, is generally very good," Eaklor reported. "As opposed to the previous situation, all the texts have at least some mention of GLBTQ (G and L, actually) issues or people. The majority, in fact (21, or 78 percent), have more than minimal coverage, which was rare in 1991, when only three books had more than a paragraph. Further, the ratings breakdown, reflecting not only amount of coverage but also 'sophistication,' is extremely encouraging: 11 A/A-; 10 B+/B; 4 C+/C; 2 D+/D."
It is indeed encouraging that textbooks have been trending from minimal to fuller accounts of lesbians and gays in American history, and that content has improved qualitatively as well. When I first read Eaklor's article I was startled to see that in 1991 she found only three textbooks with "more than a paragraph." The situation certainly has changed. But how good is it in absolute as opposed to comparative terms? That is, how far does the textbook industry have to go before producing a thorough and fair assessment of the place of homosexuals in American history?
The goal here is to build on Eaklor's work with an emphasis on the nature of lesbian and gay visibility in textbooks. It is very much a work in progress; so far, I have been able to examine only seventeen texts. Furthermore, only five were published during or after 2003--two in that year, one in 2006, two with 2007 copyright dates--too few a number to be able to see a continuance of the improvement trend Eaklor found. In fact, the two 2007 titles (James R. Conlin's The American Past and Ayers et al.'s American Passages) are among the very worst I checked, while the 2006 title (Divine et al.'s America: Past and Present) is among the best. Thus any arc of progress discernible in my small sample of recent texts is pretty much of a wash.
But some noteworthy patterns have emerged. I will discuss them in the Conclusion. A few comments on how I have profiled the textbooks. Those that received an Eaklor grade are noted with the grade. "Cohen usage ranking" refers to the results of an ingenious 2004 study conducted by Daniel J. Cohen to rank by rate of course adoption the most-used history textbooks in American colleges and universities. One of Cohen's notable findings: no one title dominates the teaching of American history. The highest-ranked title, The American Promise (which neither Lamont or Widener Libraries at Harvard nor the Boston Public Library contain; I have so far not been able to find it) by James L. Roark et al. was, for example, adopted by a total of 31 history courses, only 12% of the courses for which Cohen obtained adoption data. Cohen's rankings appear with Eaklor's grades.
I've reproduced relevant index entries for each title, flagged highlights of lesbian/gay coverage, and supplied comments. At the end of each profile I note the amount of "Index Column Inches" in each title's index--literally, the number of inches in the index columns, measured with a ruler--regarding groups that received increased attention with the advent of "New History": Asian Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, Women, and Lesbians and Gays. The actual terms vary from title to title because I retain word choices. Thus, in some cases "Native Americans" appears as "American Indians." This offers an approximate estimation--admittedly, very crude--of the degrees of coverage the textbooks provide on homosexuality compared to the other minorities and women (see Appendix).
The titles are ordered chronologically by date of publication from oldest to newest.
John M. Blum, William S. McFeely, Edmund S. Morgan, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Kenneth M. Stampp, C. Vann Woodward. The National Experience: A History of the United States. 6th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jomanovich, 1985. xxii, 983 pp.
Vicki Eaklor grade: NA Daniel Cohen usage ranking: NA
I include Blum et al. to contrast it with more recent texts. The "index column inches" devoted to minorities in this book, compared to books that followed, make it apparent that Blum et al. produced one of the last gasps of the "Old History."
Index column inches
Black Americans 1.75 Hispanic Americans .08 Indians, American 1.10 Hispanic Americans .08 Homosexuality .08 ________________________________________________________________
Alan Brinkley. American History: A Survey. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. xxx, 922 pp.
Vicki Eaklor grade: A- (2003 11th ed.) Daniel Cohen usage ranking: #5 (2003 11th ed.; out of 26 ranked.)
AIDS, 912-913 Gay community, response to AIDS, 912 Gay liberation, 858-859 Homosexuals, 858-859 Lesbians, 858-859
Brinkley opens his discussion with:
"Homosexuality had been an unacknowledged reality throughout American history; not until many years after their deaths did many Americans know, for example, that revered cultural figures such as Walt Whitman and Horatio Alger were homosexuals."
Of all the textbooks examined only Brinkley's and Paul Johnson's explicitly identify Whitman as homosexual, although Garraty & Carnes, profiled immediately below, strongly hint at it. Brinkley's suggestion that "not until many years after their deaths did many Americans know" about Whitman and Alger is amusing. Many Americans? If Americans know that Whitman was homosexual, very few learned that fact from college textbooks.
Brinkley's discussion of AIDS is limited to two paragraphs under the heading, "Modern Plagues: Drugs, AIDS, Homelessness." Like almost all of the other authors he devotes very little discussion to gay-rights activism or AIDS activism.
In a section headed "New Consciousness" Brinkley discusses the Beats; he mentions Allen Ginsberg but does not say he was gay. This I find quite odd, and will discuss it in the Conclusion.
No mention of the American Psychiatry Association's 1973 withdrawal of homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses; no mention of 1986's Bowers v. Hardwick Supreme Court decision; Alfred Kinsey does not appear in the index. As with almost all of the other textbooks discussion of McCarthyism omits the homosexual witch-hunt in the federal government.
Index column inches
African Americans 8.50 Asian Americans 6.25 Hispanic Americans 8.50 American Indians 5.75 Women 12.00 AIDS | Gay community, response to AIDS | Homosexuals | Lesbians 1.09| cumulative _______________________________________________________________
John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes. The American Nation: Volume Two: A History of the United States Since 1865. 10th ed. New York: Longman, 2000. xvii, 941pp.
Eaklor grade: B (11th ed., 2003) Cohen ranking: #11 (11th ed., 2003)
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), 880, 902-903 Homosexuals, AIDS and, 880, 902-903; gay culture, post-war, 692; military and, 931; sexual revolution and, 879, 880
"Lesbian" and "gay" do not appear in the index as independent entries.
The authors say that Walt Whitman was "the most romantic and by far the most distinctly American writer of his age." They then add the following: Whitman "bragged of fathering no less than six illegitimate children, which was assuredly untrue. He never married, and his work suggests that his strongest emotional ties were with men."
As already noted, the team of Garraty and Carnes are the only American writers (as opposed to the English Paul Johnson) here reviewed who tackle in detail the gay witch-hunt during the McCarthy era. The caption of a photo depicting a sinister-looking Joe McCarthy conferring with a formidable-looking Roy Cohn reads:
"Senator Joe McCarthy confers with aide Roy Cohn, a tough, young lawyer who had made a reputation prosecuting suspected Communists in Manhattan. Cohn intimidated some people by threatening to make public their homosexuality; yet he was himself homosexual who steadfastly denied it; in 1986 he died of AIDS. His story was symbolized in Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America (1993)."
In the text the authors write, "People were let go merely because they were suspected of being homosexuals, the argument being that they could be blackmailed into giving state secrets to the communists."
They point out that because homosexuality was not always characterized by effeminacy, the larger public was unaware of the "extent of the emerging gay culture" in the late 19th century. "But by the late 1920s and early 1930s homosexual parades, dances, and night club acts had become public events. Historian George Chauncey writes that these years represented 'the height of popular fascination with gay culture.'"
A photo of a policeman pinning an ACT UP protester to pavement: its caption is the only place in any of the textbooks to cite the organization by name apart from a brief mention in Divine et al. Another photo of a lesbian and gay civil rights parade, and a third of Harvard students with Colin Powell, objecting to Bill Clinton's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The authors hint that "the most distinctly American writer of his age" was homosexual. Other than Alan Brinkley and Paul Johnson, noted above, no other textbook here examined makes a link between Whitman as an American icon and Whitman as a homosexual.
The quote from George Chauncey's scholarship is a rarity among the textbooks reviewed.
Kinsey is referred to as the "Marx of the sexual revolution," and the authors comment on his kinky sex life (unfairly exaggerated by one of his biographers, James Jones; Kinsey's reputation has not recovered from that misleading characterization). The authors do acknowledge Kinsey's enormous impact.
Ginsberg is mentioned, his sexuality is not. Again, given the description of Whitman, why not?
This volume's photographs relating to lesbian and gay themes are impressive. Overall, the coverage is comparatively quite good. Vicki Eaklor's "B" grade for the 11th edition, which followed this edition, is somewhat puzzling.
Index Column Inches
African Americans | Black militancy | Black nationalism | Black Panther Party | Black power | Black separation | Black suffrage 5.40| cumulative Hispanics .40 Native Americans | Various Indian 1.25| cumulative Women 4.00 Homosexuals .40
The index does not include Asian Americans.
George Brown Tindall, David Emory Shi. America: A Narrative History. Brief 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000. xxii, 1308 pp.
Eaklor grade: B+ (6th ed., 2004) Cohen ranking: #7 (6th ed., 2004)
AIDS, 1251 Gay Liberation Front, 1206 Gays, gay rights, 1206, 1251, 1279, 1284, 1306
"Homosexuality" and "Lesbians" do not appear in the index.
AIDS receives one paragraph, in which Patrick Buchanan, Reagan White House communications director, is quoted as having said that homosexuals "declared war on nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution." The authors comment that officials in the Reagan administration took very limited steps to combat the disease.
In almost two pages about the Beats, where Ginsberg is mentioned, no discussion of homosexuality.
"Like the civil rights crusade and the women's movement, however, the campaign for gay rights soon suffered from internal divisions and aroused a conservative backlash. By the end of the 1970s, the by movement had lost its initial momentum and was struggling to salvage many of its hard-won gains." Here, at the end of the '70s, is where coverage of activism ends.
Kinsey does not appear.
Index Column Inches
African Americans 7.35 Asian Americans .25 Hispanic Americans 1.12 Native Americans 8.00 Women 9.75 AIDS | Gay Liberation Front | Gays, gay rights .55| Cumulative ________________________________________________________________
James Kirby Martin, Randy Roberts, Steven Mintz, Linda O. McMurry, James H. Jones. America and Its Peoples: A Mosaic in the Making. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2001. xxxii, 939 pp.
Eaklor grade: A (5th ed., 2004) Cohen ranking: Not ranked.
AIDS, 832-833 Gay rights movement, 902-903; and AIDS, 833; and gays in the military, 903, 931 Homosexuality: AIDS and, 832, 833; attitudes toward, 902, 903; comic books and, 785 Lesbians, 902-903
A recurring section devoted to various themes, "The American Mosaic," has an installment titled "AIDS: A Modern Plague." It's impressive for its length, two full pages; it has a photo of the AIDS quilt. It also quotes Pat Buchanan, as above in Tindall & Shi: Homosexuals "declared war on nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution." No mention of activism or of treatment research. Note that the copyright date is 2001. Yet the authors state, "With a cure nowhere in sight, medical authorities expect to be confronted by literally hundreds of thousands of AIDS patients by the turn of the century." This clearly was written well before 2000.
However, in a section titled "Gay and Lesbian Liberation" the authors provide this timeline:
1873: Comstock Act forbidding the mailing of homo-related material. 1934: Hollywood Production Code: No homos in movies. APA listed homosexuality a mental illness. 1950s: Mattachine Society, Daughters of Bilitis. 1948 & 1953, Kinsey: Homosexuality much more prevalent than thought. McCarthy Era: "moral perverts" were security risks. 1961: Illinois first state to decriminalize sodomy. 1962: Supreme Court: male nudes not subject to confiscation by U.S. Postal Service. 1969: Stonewall: Creation of Gay Liberation Front 1973: Am. Psychiatric Ass. delisted homosexuality as an illness. 1986: Bowers v. Hardwick
A discussion of extension of domestic partner benefits in several municipalities and in New York, Vermont. The Colorado referendum backlash, the state court decision nullifying it.
An amusing mention that in the 1950s a psychiatrist, Frederic Wertham, linked the reading of comic books to homosexuality.
A mention that Allen "Ginsberg came to accept his homosexuality."
The authors provide a sequence of lesbian and gay gains and setbacks unrivaled by any other textbook under review. None of the others even comes close.
Coverage of the 1990s is sparse. The ubiquitous mention of Don't ask, don't tell. No AIDS activism.
Only this textbook acknowledges that Allen Ginsberg was gay. Whitman is mentioned, with nothing about his sexuality. One begins to wonder: Do textbook authors feel obliged not to mention more than one gay poet in American history?
Kinsey & impact, as noted, mentioned.
The timeline's inclusion of Joe McCarthy going after "moral perverts" who posed a "security risk" at least provides an acknowledgment of the subject.
Index Column Inches
African Americans 7.00 Native Americans 5.85 Women 5.25 AIDS | Gay rights movement | Homosexuality | Lesbians .55| cumulative
Asian Americans and all forms of Latino Americans do not appear in the index. ________________________________________________________________
James West Davidson, William E. Gienapp, Christine Lee Heyrman, Mark H. Lytle, Michael B. Stoff. Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2001. xxxii, 1127 pp.
Eaklor grade: NA Cohen ranking: A compact edition of this textbook, A Concise Narrative of the American Republic, 3rd ed., 2002, ranks #3.
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), 1092, 1106 Gay rights activists, 1028-1029 Daughters of Bilitis, 1029 Homosexuality, AIDS crisis and, 1092; gay rights activists, 1028-1029; military service and, 869-870, 1031, 1105; in urban community, 657-658 Mattachine Society, 1029
"Lesbians" does not appear in the index.
Epigraph from Walt Whitman: "Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations."
On World War II: "[L]ife in an overwhelmingly male or female environment allowed many, for the first time in their lives, to meet like-minded gay men and women."
On urban life in late 19th-century America: "Homosexual men and women began forming social networks: on the streets where they regularly met or at specific restaurants and clubs, which, to avoid controversy, sometimes passed themselves off as athletic associations or chess clubs. Such places could be found in New York City's Bowery, around the Presidio military base in San Francisco, and at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C."
A quote from Black Panther Huey Newton: Homosexuals "might be the most oppressed people" in America.
"In 1974 gays achieved a major symbolic victory when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders."
The description of organized homosexual social life in the 19th century is unusual and a credit to these authors.
The coverage of activism begins with Mattachine and Bilitis, mentions "more radical groups" in the mid-1960s, notes Stonewall, and ends in "1974" with the American Psychiatric Association's delisting of homosexuality as an illness. In fact, the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its list in 1974; the American Psychiatric Association did it in 1973.
No mention of AIDS activism or of AIDS treatment issues. AIDS is addressed as part of a one-paragraph "public health crisis" topic that includes drug addiction and rising medical expenses issues. "Many groups in the country were hesitant to address [AIDS] because it was seen as a disease of male homosexuals and intravenous drug users."
"Don't ask, don't tell" is mentioned as an early Clinton blunder.
Walt Whitman is mentioned, not his sexuality. Allen Ginsberg is cited under "Beats"; no mention that he was gay. Alfred Kinsey is incorrectly said to have found that 10% of the American male population was homosexual. In fact, he estimated that 4% were exclusively gay throughout their lives and that "10 per cent of the males are more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55." Still, the authors note the great impact of Kinsey's homosexual findings, something that many of the other authors do not.
To their credit, the authors mention the founding of the Mattachine Society in 1951 and the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955; they do not name the founders.
A photo of the AIDS quilt.
Index column inches
Asian Americans .50 African Americans 10.50 Latinos 1.25 Native Americans 5.75 Women 11.75 Homosexuality .50 ________________________________________________________________
Mary Beth Norton, et al. A People and a Nation: A History of the United States. Vol. 2, 6th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. xxiv, 977 pp.
Eaklor grade: A Cohen ranking: #12
AIDS, 939-40. Gay rights: gay and lesbian culture, 680; movement, 868-869, 935; Supreme Court and, 940, 961. Homosexuals and homosexuality, 781; lifestyles of, 542; in 1920s, 680; military and, 771, 960; NOW and, 872; conservatives and, 939-940. Lesbians, 680. see also, Gay rights; Homosexuals and homosexuality.
The authors note that in 1890, almost 47% of adult men and 37% of adult women were single. "Mostly young, these men and women constituted a separate subculture that helped support institutions like dance halls, saloons, cafés, and the YMCA and YWCA…"
"The Supreme Court struck a blow against gay rights in 1986 when it upheld a Georgia felony statute that punished anal or oral sex between men with up to 20 years in jail." (Bowers v. Hardwick, not mentioned by name.)
"The issue of homosexuality caused a split in the women's movement. In 1969 and 1970 NOW forced lesbians to resign from membership and offices in the organization. The rift was healed in 1971, largely because lesbians as well as gay men had begun to fight back."
A quote from John D'Emilio: "World War II created something of a national coming out situation." A gay veteran of the war quoted: "All of a sudden you had a vast network of friends."
Like Davidson et al., Paul Johnson, and others, the authors discuss 19th-century American homosexuality.
Norton et al. also discuss gay life in 1920s New York City.
They mention that "60,000 gay men" were killed in the Holocaust.
The AIDS coverage is spare but includes comments on the "condom wars" and the Catholic Church. However, no trace of ACT UP or treatment developments.
Kinsey is mentioned but the focus is not on the homosexuality revelations in the "Male volume" but on the vivid portrayal of sexuality in the "Female volume," which the authors say caused great commotion: critics charged that by portraying female sexuality as strong and vibrant and distinct from male sexuality, Kinsey was attempting to destroy the American family.
Index Column Inches
Asian Americans .50 African Americans 9.00 American Indians 4.50 Hispanics .80 Women 12.75 Homosexuals, -ity | Gay rights | Lesbians 2.00| cumulative
John Mack Faragher, et al. Out of Many: A History of the American People. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003. xlvii, 991 pp.
Eaklor grade: B+ (Brief Combined Volume, 4th ed., 2004) Cohen ranking: #4 (Revised 3rd ed., 2003 [?])
None pertaining to homosexuality: No "AIDS," "Gay," "Homosexual," "Lesbian," "Stonewall."
"Sexuality, redefinition of" takes the reader to a discussion that does not include homosexuality.
Daniel Cohen identifies the edition he ranked as "revised 3rd, 2003." The edition I looked at is the 4th edition, 2003. There may be some kind of mix-up here. It is unlikely that a publisher would put out two editions in the same year.
Vicki Eaklor's B+ grade for the "Brief Combined Volume, 4th ed., 2004," which I couldn't find, must mean that Faragher et al. introduced some homosexual content to that edition. There is not a trace of homosexual content in the volume I examined.
No mention of Kinsey or Ginsberg. Whitman is discussed, his sexuality is not. No mention of persecution of homosexuals in the McCarthy era. ________________________________________________________________
Howard Zinn. A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present. 5th ed., 2003. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. 729pp.
Eaklor grade: NA Cohen ranking: #25
Gay movements, 616-617, 645 Lesbianism, 511
AIDS, Homosexuals, -ity, not in index.
Deborah Sampson disguised herself as a man and fought in the Revolutionary War, after which she married a distant relative of mine, Benjamin Gannett. Lamentably, Zinn misspells the name as "Garner" in the index and "Garnet" in the text. I have always been proud to be related, however remotely, to a cross-dressing combatant in the fight against the despot king.
Actual highlight: Zinn is the only author who provides an informed discussion of the political aspects of gay liberation.
Longtime lefty Zinn does a very poor job with lesbian & gay issues, but unlike all of the other authors he is attuned to the politics of resistance, the perhaps the single most important issue in the modern history of homosexuality.
About the seventies:
"The gay movement then became a visible presence in the nation, with parades, demonstrations, campaigns for the elimination of state statutes discriminating against homosexuals. One result was a growing literature about the hidden history of gay life in the United States and Europe [emph. added]."
About the nineties:
"In the early nineties, gay and lesbian groups campaigned more openly, more determinedly, against discrimination, and for more attention to the scourge of AIDS, which they claimed was being given only marginal attention by the national government [emph. added]."
Astonishingly enough, this is the only passage in the textbooks examined here that gives any sense at all of the energy and organization that went into AIDS activism. But as with all the rest, he does not name activist leaders. Like most, he does not name activist organizations.
In a swipe at Bill Clinton's timidity in appointing progressive Supreme Court justices, Zinn notes that his appointees Breyer and Ginsburg "voted with the most conservative judges on the Court to uphold the 'constitutional right' of Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade organizers to exclude gay marchers."
Zinn's one stand-alone comment about lesbians appears in this sentence about feminist consciousness: "It was liberating to talk frankly about what had for so long been secret, hidden, cause for shame and embarrassment: menstruation, masturbation, menopause, abortion, lesbianism."
Coverage of McCarthyism omits the homo-hunt. Kinsey and Bowers v. Hardwick do not appear. Ginsberg and Whitman do but are not identified as homosexual.
Index Column Inches
Blacks 6.50 Indian Removal | Indians .45| cumulative Women 4.55 Gay movements | Lesbianism .20| cumulative
Asian Americans (with the exception of Japanese internees during WW II) and all forms of Latino Americans do not appear in the index. ________________________________________________________________
Robert A. Divine, T. H. Breen, George M. Fredrickson, R. Hal Williams, Ariela J. Gross, H. W. Brands. America: Past and Present. Vol. II: Since 1865. 7th ed. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2006. xxxii, 546 pp.
Eaklor grade: A (6th ed., 2003) Cohen ranking: #6 (6th ed., 2003)
ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), 911 AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), 911, 944-946, 945 (illus.) American Psychiatric Association, on homosexuality, 911 Gay Activist Alliance, 911 Gay Liberation Front, 911 Gay liberation movement, 907, 910-911 Gays. See AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome); HIV (human immunodeficiency virus); Homosexuality Homosexuality: AIDS epidemic and, 944-946; gay liberation movement and, 910-911; gay rights movement and, 907; public attitudes toward, 912 Lesbians: gay liberation movement and, 910-911. See also Homosexuality
Top of the first index page: "Key terms and the text page on which the term is defined are highlighted in bold face type. Terms also appear in the Glossary, pp. G-1--G-13."
"AIDS" and "Gay liberation movement" are "key terms," included in the textbook's glossary.
The only textbook to refer to the Stonewall Riots, as opposed to Riot.
Mention of ACT UP: "violent demonstrations."
Notes the AIDS cocktail, its great expense; the consequent drop in the AIDS mortality rate. The only textbook surveyed here that mentions treatment advances.
Reproduction of the cover of C. Everett Koop's "Understanding AIDS" pamphlet.
Cartoon: Two men at a party, one an older, uniformed military officer, gesturing at two medals on his chest (his hand obscures other medals); the other man a younger civilian, beaming at the medals. Caption: the officer speaking: "This one's for not asking, and this one's for not telling." Background: Indistinct figures suggest it's an all-male party.
ACT UP is presented simply as a protest group, not as an autodidact advocacy group pushing for and getting specific policy changes. But this textbook deserves credit for mentioning an AIDS activist group. A pattern continues however: no leaders are named. The only people mentioned in connection with AIDS are Ronald Reagan, C. Everett Koop, Rock Hudson, and Adm. James Watkins.
The authors mention that after the American Psychiatric Association delisted homosexuality as a mental disorder in "1974"--this error recurs, it actually was 1973--by the end of the '70s more than half U.S. states had repealed sodomy statutes.
The 2000 advent of gay civil unions in Vermont is noted, but not the 2003 gay marriage legalization in Massachusetts.
Bowers v. Hardwick and Lawrence v. Texas are not mentioned.
On Kinsey, the authors suggest that his figures for male homosexuality might be inflated. But they add, "Whatever the actual number, it was clear by the 1990s that gays and lesbians formed a significant minority that had succeeded in forcing the nation, however grudgingly, to respect its rights." This is perhaps overstating things a bit.
Allen Ginsberg isn't in the index. Walt Whitman is, no mention of his sexuality. Discussion of the McCarthy era, though detailed, does not get into the witch-hunt for gays.
Index Column Inches
African Americans 8.75 Mexican Americans | Hispanic Americans 2.05| cumulative Native Americans 1.75 Women 8.75 Various Homo. 2.35
Edward Ayers, Lewis L. Gould, David M. Oshinsky, Jean R. Soderlund. American Passages: A History of the United States. Compact 3rd ed. Belmont, California: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2007. xxxi, 985 pp.
Eaklor grade: C+ (2nd ed., 2004) Cohen ranking: #15 (2nd ed., 2004)
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), 936, 950 Gay liberation front, 899 Gays and lesbians. See Homosexuals. Homosexuals, 650; AIDS and, 936, 950; equal rights for, 969; in Holocaust, 785; in military, 962; Stonewall Riot and, 899 Lesbians. See Homosexuals.
Although the copyright date of this textbook is 2007, its concluding summary of the state of lesbian and gay rights and politics is badly outdated:
"Passions surrounding the issue [homosexuality] intensified during the first decade of the twenty-first century as efforts to ban same sex marriages included a constitutional amendment to outlaw such unions. From their enhanced political power after the elections of 1994, Republicans found such 'wedge' issues as homosexuality an important contribution to their rise to greater dominance in American politics."
The Supreme Court ruled on Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986, upholding Georgia's criminalization of sodomy. The court overturned Bowers with Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. Also in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling on Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health instructed the state legislature to rewrite state law to permit same-sex marriage. Ayers et al. do not mention these signal events, despite the fact that they were presumably finishing the revision of their textbook sometime in 2006.
Coverage of AIDS is even more shoddy and outdated. The authors' concluding comments:
"AIDS activists wanted more money for research and greater cultural tolerance for those afflicted with the disease. Conservatives like Jesse Helms of North Carolina contended that most AIDS victims were homosexuals who had brought their condition upon themselves through their own behavior. After some initial sympathy toward AIDS patients, the Bush [G.H.W.] administration's attitude toward AIDS patients cooled under conservative pressure as the 1992 election approached."
The authors allude to the disease's "fatal prognosis" but fail to note treatment advances that saved many lives. The only figures named in connection with the crisis are Ronald Reagan and Rock Hudson. In this textbook the AIDS story ended in 1993.
No mention of the American Psychiatric Association or of Kinsey. References to Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg do not mention their homosexuality. No mention of the McCarthy era's witch-hunt for gays.
Index Column Inches
African Americans 8.75 Hispanics .70 Native Americans 7.50 Women 10.00 Bisexuals | Gays and lesbians | Gay liberation front | Homosexuals | Lesbians see Homosexuals .60| cumulative
"Asian Americans" not listed in the index.
Joseph R. Conlin. The American Past: A Survey of American History. 8th ed. Belmont, California: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2007. xxiii, 853 pp.
Eaklor grade: D (7th ed., 2004) Cohen ranking: Not ranked.
Gay rights, 802, 809
AIDS, homosexuality, and lesbians do not appear in the index. "Sexual liberators" and "Sexual morality" do appear; the discussions make no mention of homosexuality.
The references to "gay rights" consist of two amazingly trivial events. With regard to President Nixon's reelection:
"The conservatives were upset by what they considered kid-gloves favoritism toward African Americans; assaults on traditional morality by feminists and 'gay rights' activists; the anti-Americanism endemic in the antiwar movement;…"
Note the quotation marks around gay rights, both with the quote above and the one below. With regard to the Democratic Party's nomination of George McGovern:
"He [McGovern] arranged that the convention's 'gay rights' debate be scheduled late at night when few were watching the convention on television--and the issue quietly buried before dawn."
The only other homosexual material is in a large two-page inset, pp. 110-111, captioned "Sex: From No-No to Everybody's Doing It" (references to homosexuality and to AIDS in this inset do not appear in the index). The first paragraph, on Victorian morality, includes "Homosexuality was the sin that 'dare not speak its name.'"
Two paragraphs toward the end are offensive, as Vicki Eaklor notes in her 2003 study. Notable passages are bolded:
"Homosexuals benefited from the new openness and relaxation of sexual attitudes. They began 'coming out of the closet,' proclaiming that their sexuality was an important part of their individual identity and nothing of which to be ashamed. Hundreds of gay and lesbian groups took to the streets in colorful parades. They formed lobbies, soon supported by 'politically correct' liberals, to push for laws prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals in housing and employment. The din was such that someone remarked, 'The sin that dare not speak its name cannot sit down and shut up.'"
"During the 1980s venereal disease caused a decline in casual sex from the frenzy of the 1970s… More serious was a new affliction, AIDS, which slowly and agonizingly killed most of its victims. In developed countries like the United States (although not in the Third World) AIDS was largely a disease of homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and intravenous drug users… By the 1990s, however, public health authorities no longer described it as a threat to only homosexuals and junkies, in part because it was not politically correct to do so and in part because researchers would have had great difficulty getting funds to research a disease thought to be the exclusive problem of groups on which conventional Americans looked with distaste."
The author of a 2007 book doesn't know that heterosexual black women have become a huge AIDS at-risk group? In terms of both gay politics and AIDS Conlin is amazingly ill-informed and outdated.
No mention anywhere in this enormous, glossy, richly illustrated textbook of AIDS activism or of treatment advances. Whitman and Ginsberg are mentioned, not their sexuality, although of the Beats Conlin does say, "Some were homosexual." Kinsey does not appear. No mention of the McCarthy-era gay witch-hunt. No mention of the American Psychiatric Association. No mention of the two important Supreme Court decisions or of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision.
Index Column Inches
African and African American issues 2.50 Indian issues 7.00 Women 1.40 Gay rights .08
Asian Americans and Latino Americans (in any form) do not appear in the index.
As Vicki Eaklor notes, coverage of American lesbian and gay history in college-level textbooks has greatly expanded since 1991. Homosexuality did not exist at all in the ancien regime of "Old History" until one-paragraph capsules cropped up in final editions (1985, 1992). By 2000, however, Garraty & Carnes were commenting on the 19th century's "emerging gay culture," citing the gay historian George Chauncey; they also noted the significance of Roy Cohn in "Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America (1993)." In 2006 Divine et al. produced a concise summary of the gay liberation movement from its earliest days to the marriage issue, and enlivened it with a cartoon poking fun at Bill Clinton's "Don't ask, don't tell." Treatment of homosexual issues, in a few textbooks at least, has without question both grown in volume and become more fair-minded in tone.
But out of this emerges a curious paradox. American history contains almost no important homosexuals, according to the texts. If important means worthy of being mentioned by name, no lesbians are named and a total of five gay men are named: Walt Whitman and Horatio Alger in one text, Whitman in another text, Allen Ginsberg in one text, Roy Cohn in two texts, Joe McCarthy in one text. To put it differently, of the seventeen texts consulted, thirteen yielded no trace at all of significant homosexual figures in the American past, and the four that did cited between them two poets, an author of sentimental pulp fiction, and a pair of gay witch-hunting homophobes. The expanded lesbian/gay visibility in history textbooks after 1991 is, in short, a faceless visibility.
According to these textbooks, American history also contains very few important homosexual organizations. Two texts mention the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis; of those two, one also mentions the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance; two others mention the Gay Liberation Front; and two mention ACT UP. The majority of the texts refer to nameless "groups" and "organizations" and, moreover, do not give credit to those groups for having made things happen. For example, discussion of the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of disorders (when it is discussed at all) omits the intense three-year lobbying campaign mounted by gay activist Frank Kameny (never mentioned) that was instrumental in bringing about the decision. ACT UP is described in one text as the instigator of "violent demonstrations." Its role in prodding the Federal Drug Administration to revamp drug development policy with lifesaving results is undocumented.
Why are textbook producers reluctant to name names, give credit? One could argue in the cases of Presidents Garfield, Buchanan, and Lincoln, and in the case of Eleanor Roosevelt, that there is insufficient evidence. True, the evidence accumulated thus far with regard to those individuals is not conclusive. But then, historical judgments are rarely conclusive. The evidence is sufficiently compelling that it merits at least an acknowledgment from textbook authors. In the cases of Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and Roy Cohn, however, the evidence is clear cut. Most of the textbooks mention Whitman and Ginsberg; many mention Cohn; there is a consensus that these three men are indeed important figures in American history. Why, then, do so few of the textbooks acknowledge that they were gay? More intriguingly, perhaps, why discuss both Whitman and Ginsberg but identify only one of them as gay? Why point out Cohn's homosexuality but not the perception among knowledgeable Washington, D.C. insiders during the 1950s that Cohn's boss Joe McCarthy was also gay? Even the most progressive of the textbook authors evidently have a self-imposed limit on naming names.
One might attribute this to a reluctance to "out" figures who did not wish to be labeled homosexual. Both Whitman and Cohn, for example, denied that label to the ends of their lives. In the case of gay-rights and AIDS activists, however, no such punctilio applies. The fact that not one activist sees print in these texts is remarkable: the fight for lesbian and gay rights is one of the great political and cultural stories of the 20th century. It is studded with heroes: Harry Hay, Dale Jennings, Jim Kepner, Hal Call, Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Shirley Willer, and many others who pioneered the movement at a time when it was physically dangerous to speak publicly for rights. Heterosexual advocates for homosexuals such as Evelyn Hooker and George Weinberg (inventor of the word "homophobia") also courageously spoke out, making the crucial argument that homosexuality is not a disease. These are historic names. Yet it is a safe bet that very few college students have ever heard of them. The texts discern no Martin Luther King, Jr. in homosexual history, no Betty Friedan, no César Chávez. It is true that those iconic figures have no analogues in American homosexual history. According to the texts, however, the record is far more stark than that: the gay-rights movement has had no noteworthy leaders at all.
This is a sorry and somewhat eerie state of affairs.
Lesbian-Gay Percentage of Index Column Inches Devoted to Minorities
Blum et al., 1985 Black Americans 1.75 Indians, American 1.10 Hispanic Americans .08 Women 1.35 Homosexuality .08 TOTAL 4.36 Homosexual Pct.: 1.4
Alan Brinkley, 1995 African Americans 8.50 Asian Americans 6.25 Hispanic Americans 8.50 American Indians 5.75 Women 12.00 AIDS | Gay community, response to AIDS | Homosexuals | Lesbians 1.09| cumulative TOTAL 42.09 H. Pct.: 2.59
Garraty & Carnes, 2000 African Americans | Black militancy | Black nationalism | Black Panther Party | Black power | Black separation | Black suffrage 5.40| cumulative Hispanics .40 Native Americans | Various Indian 1.25| cumulative Women 4.00 Homosexuals .40 TOTAL 11.45 H. Pct.: 3.50
Tindall & Shi, 2000 African Americans 7.35 Asian Americans .25 Hispanic Americans 1.12 Native Americans 8.00 Women 9.75 AIDS | Gay Liberation Front | Gays, gay rights .55| cumulative TOTAL 27.02 H. Pct.: 2.0
Martin et al., 2001 African Americans 7.00 Latino [Error in transcribing; to be corrected.] Native Americans 5.85 Women 5.25 AIDS | Gay rights movement | Homosexuality | Lesbians .55| cumulative TOTAL 18.65 H. Pct.: 2.9
Davison et al., 2001 Asian Americans .50 African Americans 10.50 Latinos 1.25 Native Americans 5.75 Women 11.75 Homosexuality .50 TOTAL 30.25 H. Pct.: 1.6
Norton et al., 2001 Asian Americans .50 African Americans 9.00 American Indians 4.50 Hispanics .80 Women 12.75 Homosexuals, -ity | Gay rights | Lesbians 2.00| cumulative TOTAL 29.55 H. Pct.: 6.8
Faragher et al., 2003
No homosexual content in index.
Howard Zinn, 2003 Blacks 6.50 Indian Removal | Indians .45| cumulative Women 4.55 Gay movements | Lesbianism .20| cumulative TOTAL 11.70 H. Pct.: 1.7
Divine et al., 2006 African Americans 8.75 Mexican Americans | Hispanic Americans 2.05| cumulative Native Americans 1.75 Women 8.75 Various Homo. 2.35 TOTAL 23.65 H. Pct.: 9.9
Ayers et al., 2007 African Americans 8.75 Hispanics .70 Native Americans 7.50 Women 10.00 Bisexuals | Gays and lesbians | Gay liberation front | Homosexuals | Lesbians see Homos. .60| cumulative TOTAL 27.55 H. Pct.: 2.0
Joseph R. Conlin, 2007 African and African American Issues 2.50 Indian issues 7.00 Women 1.40 Gay rights .08 TOTAL 10.98 H. Pct.: 1.4
Ayers, Edward, Lewis L. Gould, David M. Oshinsky, Jean R. Soderlund. American Passages: A History of the United States. Compact 3rd ed. Belmont, California: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2007. xxxi, 985 pp.
Bailyn, Bernard, Robert Dalleck, David Brion Davis, David Herbert Donald, John L. Thomas, Gordon S. Wood. The Great Republic: A History of the American People. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 4th ed., 1992.
Blum, John M., Williams S. McFeely, Edmund S. Morgan, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Kenneth M. Stampp, C. Vann Woodward. The National Experience: A History of the United States. 6th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985. xxii, 983 pp.
Brinkley, Alan. American History: A Survey. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. xxx, 922 pp.
Conlin, Joseph R. The American Past: A Survey of American History. 8th ed. Belmont, California: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2007. xxiii, 853 pp.
Davidson, James West, William E. Gienapp, Christine Lee Heyrman, Mark H. Lytle, Michael B. Stoff. Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2001. xxxii, 1127 pp.
Divine, Robert A., T. H. Breen, George M. Fredrickson, R. Hal Williams, Ariela J. Gross, H. W. Brands. America: Past and Present. Vol. II: Since 1865. 7th ed. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2006. xxxii, 546 pp.
Faragher, John Mack, et al. Out of Many: A History of the American People. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003. xlvii, 991 pp.
Garraty, John A., Mark C. Carnes. The American Nation: Volume Two: A History of the United States Since 1865. 10th ed. New York: Longman, 2000. Xxvii; 504 pp.
Handlin, Oscar. The History of the United States. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.
Henretta, James A., David Brody, Lynn Dumenil, Susan Ware. America's History Vol. 2: Since 1865. 5th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2004.
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