Why does our history begin on the east coast?

By Jack D. Forbes
News From Indian Country April 2010

Heretofore the history of the United States has been largely treated as the story of a process, rather than the complete history of a land “from sea to shining sea.” And this process always begins either in Europe or on the Atlantic Coast of North America.

Allow me to contrast the history of England with the history of the United States. In the history of England one finds that a “land,” i.e., England is the focus, and events tend to be portrayed from earliest times to the present even though sources might be archaeological, geological, paleontological, or literary.

Thus, the story of England is not the story of the Celtic migrations, the Roman conquest, or of the Germanic migrations, or the Danish invasion, or the Norman French conquest. Rather it is the story of the land and its peoples regardless of race, culture, languages, or origin. 

These different peoples may settle in England from various directions, arriving on a variety of coast lines.

But United States history and regional histories, (such as the history of “the west” or ‘the south”) are virtually always focused on the westward movement of the British or English peoples across the Atlantic and then the subsequent growth and expansion of the area of British control.

This is followed by the British colonial rebellion against Britain, the development of the United States of North America, soon to be called the United States of America, and the expansion and growth of the dominant white population of the United States and their culture, literature, and institutions.

Significantly, the growth and decline of the Spanish and French empires in North America and the adjacent Caribbean receive scant attention usually. Thus, for example, the establishment of Jamestown in Virginia in 1607 is given great attention “as the birthplace of America” while the Spanish settlements of St. Augustine (1565) and Santa Fe (ca. 1598-1610) are often ignored.

 

Once British North America (Canada) has made it clear that it will not join the USA, its history is dropped except for brief mention of the effort to conquer it in the War of 1812. Similarly the other British colonies that remained with Britain, such as Barbados, Jamaica, Bermuda, and the Bahamas, cease to be areas of U.S. history interest, in spite of the fact, I might add, that Native American captives (slaves) from the mainland were often sold to those islands. But then, the entire subject of the enslavement of the First Americans is very lightly treated, and usually not at all.

Since there commonly is no attempt whatsoever to tell the story of the settlement of the Americas by Native Americans, except perhaps for a very brief reference to the Bering Straight theory; and certainly no attempt to reconstruct the history of the First Americans, we are presented with the fact that United States history is not the history of the land called variously North America, “America,” or the United States. Instead it is a racially focused history telling the story of only one great people and their institutions.

It is an “east coast history” which subordinates the continent’s story to an ethnocentric and geocentric distortion.

It is my argument that US history, constructed in such a fashion, is inherently biased. It also deprives us and our youth of a deep and full understanding of the story of our land, a story which must begin when North and South America broke loose from their ancient connections with Europe and Africa and moved across the Earth’s surface to their present location, a movement which eventually sees North and South America combining to form the continent called America, joining together where Panama and Colombia meet.

Needless to state, the history of the various climatic ages and of the Ancient Americans, with their epochal migrations and colonizing of every section of the hemisphere, forms a fascinating and essential part of the history of our land; but one which is ignored, in spite of the fact that a significant percentage of our population (all who are of Mexican, Central-South American, Puerto Rican, and American Indian ancestry), have direct ties to that marvelous story. Large numbers of African-Americans also had ancestors who were ancient pioneers of the Americas.

Thus I call upon educators and upon the public to demand history texts and curricula, which are free of racial preferencing and of ardent imperialism and which, instead, tell the incredibly rich and beautiful history of all of our peoples. We can start our American history from the west, from the north, from the south, from the east. California, or Alaska, or Oregon, or Mexico can begin our story. California does not have to wait until 1848 to become part of our land. It was a part of our “country” long before Columbus, and long before Jamestown or Plymouth Rock.

In short, we must try to persuade our European-American fellow-citizens to stop their fascination with the triumphs and adventures of their European ancestors and ask them to come home to America, the real land, and its entire history.

Jack Forbes has been writing about the history of our land since the 1950s. His most recent effort to awaken interest in Ancient American History is his book “The American Discovery of Europe,” about Indians crossing the Atlantic to Europe and elsewhere long before Columbus’ voyage,

 

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