Representations of Homosexuality in College-Level American History Textbooks: A Survey and Critique

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Representations of Homosexuality in College-Level American History Textbooks: A Survey and Critique by Lewis Gannett

A Thesis Submitted to the Department of History In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts,University of Massachusetts, Boston

Professor William A. Percy III, Thesis Director June, 2007


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


Contents

Introduction

In making the observation quoted above, Joseph Moreau was not 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 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 celebrated author of The Age of Jackson and old Camelot hand comes off as a self-appointed national shrink. 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 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 it 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; however, 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 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, 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 Abraham Lincoln, 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). But the general tone of the paragraph conveys 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 thesis identifies parallel themes between black studies and women's studies. I believe that the same 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 and 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 show that Walt Whitman was homosexual, and the first to outline 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, author of Gay American History and 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 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 say nothing 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 two textbooks; in one of them his lover Peter Orlovsky is also mentioned. Roy Cohn is portrayed as gay in two textbooks; one of those texts, as already mentioned (Paul Johnson's) also suggests that Senator Joe McCarthy was gay. One textbook mentions Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, the founders of Daughters of Bilitis, and also mentions Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society. Otherwise, the textbooks name not one "important" homosexual American. The category does not exist. Of the 20th-century officeholders named above, perhaps only 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 widely 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 four textbooks note that until 1973 homosexuals were officially classified as diseased by the American Psychiatric Association. Three 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 a less 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, "Gay is 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 fermenting. 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.

The Supreme Court decriminalized sodomy in 2003 with the Lawrence v. Texas decision; until then, in many states, homosexuals were at the mercy of law enforcement for the crime of simply leading their lives, a condition conducive to damage. Another notable damage issue concerns the fact that, until 1973, psychiatric orthodoxy deemed homosexuality a mental illness that required various reparative therapies, some of them quite drastic indeed. Martin Duberman's medical autobiography, Cures, offers a harrowing account. It is now clear that such "therapies," including those still used today in the religion-based "ex-gay movement," are in fact highly damaging.

Another issue concerns the higher-than-average suicide rate among lesbian and 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. But even the weakened bill proved too strong for the governor.

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. 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. 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 three 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. Berkin et al. note that the homosexual revelations in the "Kinsey Report" generated a widely felt sense of unease about an invisible homosexual menace, which helped to fuel anti-gay persecutions.

But perhaps by far the largest documentation of the issue of "damage" and homosexuality resides in the nation's legal system: the product of lawsuits brought against the Catholic Church by people who, as minors, were victims of sexually predatory priests. One issue concerns the possibility that same-sex sexual relations with minors might damage them in such a way as to predispose them toward a pathologized homosexuality. Inversely, what sort of damage drove priests in seemingly significant numbers to prey on adolescent males in their charge? Whence did their "damage" come? Unfortunate experiences in parochial school, the seminary? This subject awaits further research. It is noteworthy that none of the textbooks here examined, even the most recent, mentions the clergy scandal.

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 three mention the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis; only one mentions the founders. In fact, apart from one textbook, not one gay-rights activist is named, and no AIDS activists are named in any textbook. 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.

Textbook Profiles

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 yet to go before producing a thorough 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. Some noteworthy patterns have emerged.

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 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). Because format issues such as font size vary from textbook to textbook, the measure is useful not so much for comparisons between textbooks as it for the relative coverage of groups within any given textbook.

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

Index citation

Homosexuality, 908

Highlights

None.

Comments

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, suggest 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
Women 1.35
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.)

Index citations

AIDS, 912-913 Gay community, response to AIDS, 912
Gay liberation, 858-859
Homosexuals, 858-859
Lesbians, 858-859

Highlight

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."

Comments

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 odd. Why mention that Whitman and Alger were homosexual, but omit this very public aspect of Ginsberg's life?

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
_______________________________________________________________

Kennedy, David M., Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas A. Bailey, Mel Piehl. The Brief American Pageant: A History of the Republic. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Xv, 647 pp.

Eaklor grade: D+ (2003, 12th ed.)
Cohen ranking: #24 (2002, 12th ed.)

Index Citations

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), 593
Gay rights, 593
Stonewall Inn, 593

Highlights

None.

Comments

The sole references to homosexuality appear in three sentences within a single paragraph in a section captioned, "The Cultural Upheaval of the 1960s":

"By the 1960s, gay men and lesbians were also emerging from the closet and demanding sexual tolerance. A brutal attack by off-duty police officers at New York's Stonewall Inn 1969 powerfully energized gay and lesbian militancy. Widening worries in the 1980s about sexually transmitted diseases like genital herpes and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) finally slowed, but did not reverse, the sexual revolution."

Of Walt Whitman, whose sexuality is unmentioned, the authors note: "He handled sex with shocking frankness, and his book was banned in Boston." "Leaves of Grass gained for Whitman the informal title 'Poet Laureate of Democracy.'"

Kinsey does not appear. Allen Ginsberg does, with no mention of sexuality. For a textbook published as late as 2000, this one provides a strikingly bare-bones treatment of homosexuality.

Index Column Inches

African Americans 4.05
Hispanics
Latinos .75| cumulative
Native Americans 2.75
Japanese Americans |
Chinese Americans 1.10| cumulative
Women 3.80
Gay rights .10

______________________________________________________________

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)

Index Citations

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.

Highlights

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 one of two American textbook producers (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.

Comments

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)

Index citations

AIDS, 1251
Gay Liberation Front, 1206
Gays, gay rights, 1206, 1251, 1279, 1284, 1306

"Homosexuality" and "Lesbians" do not appear in the index.

Highlights

None.

Comments

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 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.

Index citations

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

Highlights

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 (paraphrased for the sake of brevity):

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."

Comments

The authors provide a sequence of lesbian and gay gains and setbacks unrivaled by any other textbook under review.

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.

Index citations

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.

Highlights

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."

Comments

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

Index citations

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.

Highlights

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."

Comments

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

________________________________________________________________

Boyer, Paul S., Clifford E. Clark, Jr., Sandra McNair Hawley, Joseph F. Kett, Neal Salisbury, Harvard Sitkoff, Nancy Walsh. The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. 4th Concise Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. xxi, 687 pp.

Eaklor grade: A (2004, 5th ed.)
Cohen ranking: #10 (2004, 5th ed.)

Index citations

Gays: AIDS and, 648; liberation movement and, 628. See also Homosexuality
Homosexuality: classification of, 628; in military, 669. See also Gays

Highlights

None.

Comments

This is another minimalist textbook from Houghton Mifflin.
"Lesbians" does not appear in the index. As with the volume by David M. Kennedy et al., homosexuality is portrayed as a product of the late 1960s, here under the rubric of "The Sexual Revolution." The authors state:

"The counterculture's 'do your own thing' approach to sex fit into an overall atmosphere of greater permissiveness. These shifts of attitude and behavior unleashed a sexual revolution that would flourish until the mid-1980s, when the AIDS epidemic and the 'graying' of the youth movement chilled the ardor of open sexuality."

The authors capsule homosexual history with the following:

"In 1969 gay liberation emerged publicly from the semiunderground gay communities that had sprouted in major cities. By 1973 eight hundred openly gay groups were fighting for equal rights for homosexuals, the incorporation of lesbianism into the women's movement, and the removal of the stigmas of immorality and depravity attached to being gay. That year the American Psychiatric Association officially ended its classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder."

Apart from AIDS, this textbook like many others conveys no sense that important court decisions, influential medical activism, and greater openness among homosexual politicians and media figures transformed the nature of American lesbian/gay life from the 1980s to the present. AIDS is the sole issue that takes its coverage beyond the 1970s.

Kinsey is not mentioned, Allen Ginsberg is mentioned, minus his sexuality. Of Walt Whitman the authors state, "He saw himself--crude, plain, self-taught, passionately democratic--as the personification of the American people." "Emerson had long awaited the appearance of 'the poet of America' and knew immediately that in Whitman that poet had arrived." This iconic figure's homosexuality escapes the authors' attention.

Index Column Inches

African Americans 7.50
Native Americans 6.00
Hispanics |
Mexican-Americans |
Puerto Ricans 2.35| cumulative
Asian Americans |
Japanese Americans |
Chinese Americans 1.15| cumulative
Women 8.50
Gays |
Homosexuality .55| cumulative
________________________________________________________________

Berkin, Carol, Christopher L. Miller, Robert W. Cherny, James L. Gormly. Making America: A History of the United States. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. xxxii, 1014 pp.

Eaklor grade: NA
Cohen ranking: #21

Index citations

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, see AIDS
AIDS, Clinton, Congress and, 994
Gay Manifesto, 907
Gays and lesbians, see Homosexuals, homosexuality
Homosexuals and homosexuality, 734, 907; gay and lesbian subculture and, 556; during World War II, 806; in 1950s, 873; lesbian rights and, 907; medical classification of, 907; armed forces and, 993; Clinton and, 993-994; AIDS and, 994 Lesbians, see Homosexuals, homosexuality

Highlights

This textbook names lesbians, something that the other textbooks here surveyed do not: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, founders of the important early lesbian group, Daughters of Bilitis, and Rita Mae Brown, author of the seminal lesbian novel, Rubyfruit. It also names Harry Hay, founder of another important early rights group, the Mattachine Society.

A recurring feature, "Individual Choices," includes profiles of Deborah Sampson, Father Mychal Judge, and Allen Ginsberg. Sampson was a cross-dressing woman soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War alongside men who had no inkling of her sex until a battlefield wound required her hospitalization. There is no evidence that she had sexual relations with other women, but her life is a notable case of gender nonconformity. Father Judge was a New York City Fire Department chaplain who lost his life responding to the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan. The authors state that he supported gay rights, even marched in celebration of them, but do not specifically characterize him as homosexual. The authors are somewhat more specific about Ginsberg, and mention his companion, Peter Orlovsky.

The focus on Ginsberg notwithstanding, no mention of Walt Whitman's sexuality.

A first-rate section, "Emergence of a Gay and Lesbian Subculture," treats homosexual life in the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th century as a consequence of urbanization. The book extends this timeline with "Development of Gay and Lesbian Subcultures," a sketch of homosexuality in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s, the arrival of Freudian conceptions of same-sex eros, and ensuing stigmatization and persecution of homosexuals. Another section, "New Opportunities and Old Constraints," which covers the role of minorities during World War II, sums up new freedoms and opportunities that homosexuals found while serving in that war.

Berkin et al. note the impact of Kinsey's 1948 "Male volume," linking its homosexual revelations to the context of paranoia that fueled the witch-hunt for gays under Eisenhower during the McCarthy era.

A section entitled "Rejecting Gender Roles," part of the book's treatment of the social tumult of the 1960s, focuses on the rise of feminism. It includes a discussion of the start of the homosexual rights movement in the 1950s. The coverage notes the issuance of a "Gay Manifesto" following the Stonewall riot, and concludes with the American Psychiatric Association's delisting of homosexuality as a disease in 1973.

Comments

Berkin et al.'s "Individual Choices" feature addresses a diverse array of figures in American history who overcame great odds to achieve distinction. As noted, the feature includes Deborah Sampson, Allen Ginsberg, and Father Mychal Judge. The Ginsberg and Judge profiles are the only lengthy and detailed examinations of gay lives to be found in the textbooks here surveyed. They are completely without parallel.

Berkin et al. cite Horatio Alger as a spiritual antecedent of both Ginsberg and Judge. Each in his own way journeyed, via determination and pluck in the manner of Alger's fictional boy heroes, from "rags to riches." However, neither profile alludes to the fact that Alger was himself homosexual. Alan Brinkley, as noted above, does characterize the novelist as gay. Brinkley published in 1995, eight years before the Berkin et al. volume appeared. Did the latter take some kind of cue from the former? If so, why didn't Berkin et al. point out that the Alger streak in Ginsberg's and Judge's lives included sexuality?

Comparatively speaking this textbook is superb, a credit to its publisher, Houghton Mifflin, which as noted above has produced minimalist accounts of homosexuality in American history. But Berkin et al., like so many of the other authors, see the 1980s and 1990s in terms of AIDS and President Clinton's "Don't ask, don't tell." The historic role of AIDS activists in demanding and getting better treatments is ignored. Out lesbian and gay politicians? Nowhere mentioned. Historic court rulings of recent years likewise make no appearance. One begins to get the feeling that even the more conscientious of the textbooks here reviewed are somehow stuck in decades long past.

Nonetheless, unlike all of the other textbook authors under review here, Berkin et al. do have the distinction of having named lesbians and the founders of important lesbian and gay organizations.

Index Column Inches

African Americans 8.50
Asian Americans |
Various Chinese |
Japanese Americans 2.05| cumulative
Hispanics |
Latinos |
Mexican Americans 2.75| cumulative
American Indians 9.00
Women 10.50
Gays |
Homosexuals |
Lesbians 1.50| 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 [?])

Index citations

None pertaining to homosexuality: No "AIDS," "Gay," "Homosexual," "Lesbian," "Stonewall."

"Sexuality, redefinition of" takes the reader to a discussion that does not include homosexuality.

Highlights

None.

Comments

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

Index citations

Gay movements, 616-617, 645
Lesbianism, 511

AIDS, Homosexuals, -ity, not in index.

Highlights

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.

Comments

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)

Index citations

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."

Highlights

"AIDS" and "Gay liberation movement" are "key terms," included in the textbook's glossary.

One of only two textbooks 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.

Comments

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<br 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)

Index citations

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.

Highlights

None.

Comments

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.

Index citations

Gay rights, 802, 809

Highlights

None.

Comments

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.


Conclusion

I. Overview 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 (Blum et al., 1985, Bailyn et al., 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 2003 Berkin et al. focused on the lives of two gay Americans, Allen Ginsberg and Father Mychal Judge, in a prominent recurring feature, "Individual Choices." 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. In the context of history, one might define "important" as worthy of being named. Only Berkin et al. named lesbians: Daughters of Bilitis founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and novelist Rita Mae Brown. Berkin et al. also mentioned Mattachine Society founder Harry Hay, poet Allen Ginsberg, and Ginsberg's companion Peter Orlovsky. But in the other textbooks, no lesbians and a total of only 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 twenty texts consulted, fifteen yielded no trace at all of significant homosexual figures in the American past, and four of the five that did mention significant homosexual figures, cited between them two poets, an author of sentimental pulp fiction, and a pair of witch-hunting homophobes. That the fifth textbook of this latter group, Berkin et al.'s, actually mentions lesbians by name and organization founders by name, distinguishes those authors, but does little to alter the overall picture. 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. Three texts mention the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis; of those three, 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 nowhere documented.

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 conclusive. 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, in the case of a number of textbooks, 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 all of these texts but one (Berkin et al.) 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, Barbara Gittings, 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. In more recent times Larry Kramer, founding father of AIDS activism, played an crucial role in galvanizing the indisputably historic gay and lesbian response to one of the most lethal plagues of all time. These are historic names. Yet it is a safe bet that, apart perhaps from Kramer, 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 starker than that: the gay-rights movement has had no noteworthy leaders at all.

There is nothing wrong with spotlighting, say, a Father Mychal Judge, the 9/11 casualty, as an example of a gay man whose life brings into focus an aspect of his times. Indeed, it is commendable that Berkin et al. chose to do so. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that Walt Whitman or Allen Ginsberg, poets whose works have come to be seen as crystallizations of American spirit at very different stages of the national journey, led gay lives. Indeed, it is commendable that a few textbook authors chose to do so--although it does seem rather eerie that none of those authors chose to characterize both poets as gay. There is nothing wrong with flagging the fact that a closeted homosexual, Roy Cohn, helped to orchestrate a reign of terror against fellow closeted homosexuals employed, like Cohn, by the federal government. A toast to Paul Johnson and Garraty & Carnes for having done so!

But in the end, these acknowledgments amount to very little. Textbook coverage of homosexual figures, organizations, and achievements is scattershot, often badly out of date, and generally lacking any sense of the drama that attended the fight to end criminalization of homosexuality, medical classification of it as a disease, and political neglect of an actual disease that is now killing, worldwide, far more heterosexuals than homosexuals. All historical accounts are selective and therefore exclusionary; no matter how hard the historian tries to sketch the big picture, inevitably much is left out. It thus becomes a question of priorities. This examination of American history textbooks indicates that, compared to the greater coverage that the "New History" has accorded to other minorities and to women, coverage of homosexuality has not advanced nearly as far, either qualitatively or quantitatively speaking (see Appendix for a quantitative profile). One concludes that within the American history textbook industry, expanded coverage of homosexuality ranks lowest on the priority scale.

As the foregoing has suggested, textbook producers could easily have drawn on a high-quality body of scholarship that has seen rapid growth over the last two decades. It is not for a want of material that their books convey so little. This prompts another conclusion. It appears that the inadequacy of representations of homosexuality in textbooks stems from an inability or unwillingness literally to see homosexual history. That history stares textbook authors in the face. With a small number of exceptions, the authors are unable to return the gaze.

II. "So what? Who cares?"

C. A. Tripp's The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, published in 2005, argued that Lincoln found his primary sexual fulfillment with men. Predictably, controversy ensued. But a number of prominent reviewers, including Christine Stansell in The New Republic and Richard Brookhiser in The New York Times Book Review, conceded that the evidence Tripp presented and the conclusions he drew from it cannot be dismissed. Stansell commented, "Still, it's what gets you through the night. If Captain Derickson helped the grieving father and the burdened president, we should only be grateful." The review's final words: "[A]nd finally it doesn't matter much." Brookhiser observed, "We know more than our ancestors [about sexuality], and our reward is that, in some ways, we may do less [sexually speaking]. In any case, on the evidence before us, Lincoln loved men, at least some of whom loved him back." In concluding his review Brookhiser referred to Lincoln's "towering" political achievements and then commented, "This is the Lincoln that matters. The rest is biography."

Stansell is a professor of history at Princeton, specializing in American 19th-century gender issues; Brookhiser is the author of a number of well-received biographies of prominent early Americans; neither is a lightweight when it comes to American historiography. As is evident from the quotes above, both reviewers concluded that if Lincoln did, in fact, prefer the sexual company of men, it (this paraphrases Brookhiser's judgment a bit) "doesn't matter."

Samuel P. Wheeler, a Lincolnist at Southern Illinois University and the keeper of a notable website devoted to Lincoln studies, remarked in the course of email with this author that, "[B]oth scholars and the general public are genuinely interested in the Tripp thesis. Intimate World lays out the evidence and scholars have certainly weighed in on whether or not they think it holds up; however, the question usually comes back to: 'So what?' or 'Who cares?'" This is startling. How does "genuinely interested" square with "So what, who cares?"

As the late Dr. Tripp's assistant in the preparation of Intimate World, I take a personal interest in the reception of his book. But I am not alone in finding notable the fact that, on the one hand, publication of the book generated tidal waves of reaction, but that, on the other hand, the commentariat's apparently intense interest in the book's thesis could so swiftly fizzle out into "So what?"

This raises a question. Why, indeed, should historians and the educated public care about Lincoln's sexuality? To put it more broadly: Why should anyone care about homosexuality in history? What difference does it make?

One answer comes from Nancy C. Unger, a professor of history at Santa Clara University. In the March, 2007 issue of The Journal of American History, she writes:

I have always included the history of gay men and lesbians in my various classes, not as a sop to 'political correctness' and not because it is an amusing/interesting 'add on' to 'real' history, but because it is a vital component of a more complete understanding of American political, economic, social, legal, military, and religious history. For example, my courses that focus on the twentieth century include the significant role that the campaign against homosexuals played in McCarthy-era persecutions[.]"

Unger goes on to cite the role that coastal geography played in the emergence of major homophile centers in New York and San Francisco, and the role of lesbians in feminist movements.

Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school, has its share of conservative alumni, some of whom objected to the inclusion of lesbian/gay material in a course offering. One complainer wrote to the university's president: "[W]hen individual authors or historical figures are identified by their [homosexual] orientation and their contributions 'celebrated,' there is the implication of support for their lifestyle."

Unger had a succinct reply: "History is a tool of understanding rather than celebration. The gay and lesbian course does not seek to defend or denounce homosexuality any more than the women's courses defend or denounce women, or historical geography courses defend or denounce physical geography."

The distinction Unger makes between "understanding" and "celebration" is a key issue in the debate over the status of homosexuality in the teaching of history. There are, however, a number of fine points to all of this, which, in the opinion here, Unger elides.

On October 1, 1995 the New York Times ran an article about the possible homosexuality of a number of historical figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Michael Burlingame, a distinguished Lincolnist and justly acclaimed archivist, is quoted in it: "I don't see how the whole question of Lincoln's gayness would explain anything other than making gay people feel better...[a]nd I don't think the function of history is to make people feel good. Celebratory history is propaganda."

Burlingame's statement is remarkable. He suggests that if Lincoln were homosexually inclined, documentation of that possibility would only serve to make "gay people feel better." That's all? What an astonishing statement! It does not seem to have occurred to Burlingame, author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln--a probing inquiry into the sixteenth president's emotional make-up--that any fundamental aspect of Lincoln's life is historically significant whether or not it makes "gay people feel better."

But then, Burlingame's attitude echoes that of Brookhiser and Stansell, and those of the many amateur and professional historians Samuel P. Wheeler cites. The "So what?" stance appears to be widespread at levels high and low.

A reconsideration of Unger's distinction between "understanding" and "celebration" is in order. "Understanding" connotes neutral, value-free historical assessment; "celebration" connotes a positive emotional assessment that is not neutral, not value-free. The former, in short, is more "objective" than the latter. However, as Peter Novick so lucidly makes plain in That Noble Dream, oft-mentioned above, "objectivity" is a slippery subject, and by extension, so too is "understanding."

While it certainly should be the paramount goal of every historian to confront evidence as dispassionately as possible, and to avoid as much as possible either infatuation with or abhorrence of historical figures under study, so as to be able to evaluate evidence with a steady mind, it is plainly absurd to claim that "understanding" must exclude value judgments that carry an emotional tinge. Consider the concept of the hero. Does any historian not have his or her heroes? Or for that matter, villains? One might reply, Wait a minute! Yes, I have my heroes, my villains--but for purely objective reasons.

We need not skid down that slippery slope for the purposes of this discussion. A germane example of the role of the hero in historiography offers itself close at hand. Those who have attended or watched on television convocations of Lincoln scholars know that a frequent feature of such gatherings is the "Lincoln presenter." The presenter is an actor who impersonates Lincoln in costume, demeanor, speech. He often reads a Lincoln text, and otherwise stands about or sits around as a living embodiment of the great president. This author recalls watching such a performance on television with Dr. C. A. Tripp. We noted the aura of earnest sanctity that the presenter projected while reading an excerpt from a Lincoln speech, and the reverence with which the assembled, quite eminent scholars took it all in. The impersonator displayed little talent; his delivery plodded along without a trace of grace or wit; he evoked not so much Lincoln as a parson reading scripture so holy that it verged on overwhelming him. Both Tripp and I found this striking. The word "cultic" came up. "Frankly," Tripp commented, "it's an embarrassment."

Cult is perhaps too strong a word to apply to the generally very smart and sophisticated band of scholars who have devoted their professional careers to Lincoln studies. But a sense of reverence does indeed pervade Lincoln literature and Lincoln proceedings, and scholarly analysis of his writings sometimes verges on exegetical religiosity. Gore Vidal has referred to hard-core Lincolnists as the "Lincoln priesthood."

The view here is that it is perfectly appropriate to revere Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, this author personally came to know that the more one learns about Lincoln, the more awe-inspiring the man's talents and achievements become. He was a genius, an autodidact to boot, and above all, magnificently, endlessly mysterious. The question will eternally be posed but probably never fully answered: In the face of hideous political obstacles and personal losses, how did he accomplish all that he did?

But let us now put into context, and examine with a cold eye, Michael Burlingame's dismissal of "celebratory history" as "propaganda." The rites and rituals with which Lincolnists pay homage to their subject are profoundly celebratory! To view the matter otherwise is to ignore an obvious (and sometimes quite moving) reality. Let there be no mistake about it: Lincolnists savor presenter performances precisely because it makes them "feel better." And why not? A collective feeling of veneration for a great leader is a tonic as old as humankind, and something that historians, especially Lincolnists, routinely experience without the slightest trace of finding anything amiss. To be sure, Lincolnists have a vast array of "objective" reasons for their devotion to the Great Emancipator. But let's not delude ourselves with the notion that scholarly assessments of Lincoln are value-free, emotionless, devoid of celebration. To pretend to rule out such factors and thereby obtain an unemotional "understanding" is, in the view here, to rob "understanding" of much of its richness.

Nancy Unger recounts the reaction of a gay student to whom she had recommended John D'Emilio's Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. The student handwrote at the end of his review of the book, "Thanks for recommending this book. As a gay man, I didn't know I had a history." Unger comments: "Didn't know he had a history?! My fellow historians will share my sense of dismay and my determination to remedy this unthinkable state of affairs."

This thesis suggests that many of Unger's fellow historians do not in fact share her sentiments (the last sentence in the quote from Unger, immediately above, suggests to this reader a wry recognition on Unger's part that there is no unanimity among historians about the place of homosexuality in the teaching of history). To those historians and educators and textbook authors who manifest the "So what?" and "Who cares?" attitude about Lincoln's sexuality in particular and the role of homosexuality in American history in general, let it be said, echoing the exemplary--and, it must be noted, heterosexual--Nancy Unger: Of course the history of homosexuality should be taught, if for no other reason than to give students a sense of the past as it was lived by people either similar or not so similar to themselves. If this leads to greater self-understanding, and in the bargain helps to make lesbian and gay students "feel good"--well then. So much the better!

To put it bluntly: Neither Lincolnists nor anyone else has a monopoly on the feel-good vibes that attend the veneration of a hero. Burlingame's statement, "I don't see how the whole question of Lincoln's gayness would explain anything other than making gay people feel better[,]" betrays a certain miserliness, not to mention a dereliction of his scholarly project to understand Lincoln's psyche. With so many people taking heart from old Abe--especially Lincolnists awash in Lincolnisms, feeling exalted, pious--why can't gays join the party? Especially since Abe does seem to have been amorous with a number of men in his life?

But the legitimacy and indeed the desirability of providing lesbians, gay men, and everyone else with a sense of homosexual history is by no means the only reason the subject does not warrant the "So what?" and "Who cares?" treatment.

Again, take the case of Lincoln. The extent to which Tripp is right about Lincoln's sexuality, is the extent to which generations of historians have been not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong. For the sake of a thought experiment, let us suppose that Tripp is right. How could it be that the perhaps most-studied American life was for so long so misunderstood? Did historians not notice relevant evidence? If so, why not? Maybe because they did not want to see it? Or maybe they did see it, but chose to repress it. All of these possibilities raise questions about American historiography. Is it afflicted with significant blind spots? If that is a problem--this thesis argues that it is--it cries out for remedy. And if such blind spots have in fact hindered the practice of American history as reflected in textbooks, in what other areas beyond homosexuality do textbook authors need corrective lenses?

The final and most important reason textbook authors should pay more attention to homosexuality in American history involves an expansion of reason number two. Historians have an obligation to seek out and tell the truth. With regard to homosexuality, they have until quite recently utterly failed to fulfill that obligation. This thesis argues that many historians, especially those charged with writing textbooks, continue to manifest a squeamishness about telling the truth. There is no justification for prolonging the tradition of silence, censorship, and--let us be frank--revulsion at a time when advances in scholarship have made it abundantly clear that there is a great deal more to the history of homosexuality than textbook authors, even in this by-now graying era of "New History," are willing to admit. In sum, the "So what?" and "Who cares?" attitude is an embarrassment to the history profession.

Appendix

Lesbian-Gay Percentage of Index Column Inches Devoted to "New History" Coverage of Minorities

Blum et al. are included for purposes of general contrast with "Old History." Variations in font size and other format issues make this profile not so much useful for comparing the priorities of the various textbooks, as for noting relative degrees of coverage within individual textbooks.

Blum et al., 1985
Black Americans 1.75
Hispanic Americans .08
Indians, American 1.10
Women 1.35
Homosexuality .08
TOTAL 4.36 Homosexual Pct.: .54

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

Kennedy et al., 2000
African Americans 4.05
Hispanics |
Latinos .75| cumulative
Native Americans 2.75
Japanese Americans |
Chinese Americans 1.10| cumulative
Women 3.80
Gay rights .10
TOTAL 12.55 H. Pct.: 1.25

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 --?--
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

Boyer et al., 2002
African Americans 7.50
Native Americans 6.00
Hispanics |
Mexican-Americans |
Puerto Ricans 2.35| cumulative
Asian Americans |
Japanese Americans |
Chinese Americans 1.15| cumulative
Women 8.50
Gays |
Homosexuality .55| cumulative
TOTAL 26.05 H. Pct.: 2.1

Berkin et al., 2003
African Americans |
Various Black 10.25| cumulative
Asian Americans |
Various Chinese |
Japanese Americans 2.05| cumulative
Hispanics |
Latinos |
Mexican Americans 2.75| cumulative
American Indians 9.00
Women 10.50
Gays |
Homosexuals |
Lesbians 1.50| cumulative
TOTAL 36.05 H. Pct.: 4.16

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.: 2.1

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.: .73


Primary References

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.

Berkin, Carol, Christopher L. Miller, Robert W. Cherny, James L. Gormly. Making America: A History of the United States. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. xxxii, 1014 pp.

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.

Boyer, Paul S., Clifford E. Clark, Jr., Sandra McNair Hawley, Joseph F. Kett, Neal Salisbury, Harvard Sitkoff, Nancy Walsh. The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. 4th Concise Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. xxi, 687 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.

Johnson, Paul. A History of the American People. New York: HarperPerennial, 1999.

Kennedy, David M., Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas A. Bailey, Mel Piehl. The Brief American Pageant: A History of the Republic. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. xv, 647 pp.

Martin, James Kirby, 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.

Morison, Samuel Eliot, Henry Steele Comager, William E. Leuchtenburg, The Growth of the American Republic. Vol. II, 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. xx, 923 pp..

Norton, Mary Beth, et al. A People and a Nation: A History of the United States. Vol. 2, 6th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. xxiv, 977 pp.

Tindall, George Brown, David Emory Shi. America: A Narrative History. Brief 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000. xxii, 1308 pp.

Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present. 5th ed., 2003. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. 729pp.

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