The sounds of silence: American history textbook representations of non-violence and the Abolition Movement

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In this paper we examine how the Abolition Movement’s approach to non-violent resistance has been silenced in four American history textbooks. Despite extensive research that reveals an extensive network of groups dedicated to the peaceful abolishment of slavery little of this historical record is included in the textbooks. Instead, a skewed representation of the movement is conveyed to the reader, one that conveys an image of a movement that contributes to a climate of social violence. Through a critical discourse analytical approach to the data we carefully deconstruct how this process of misrepresentation occurs. By employing the discursive tools of narrative framing, positioning, and stance we lift up what is often hidden from the reader and demonstrate how language use communicates powerful social messaging to the reader. We argue that student readers are left with an impoverished sense of how non-violent democratic change has occurred when presented with a limited portrayal of the Abolition Movement. We therefore emphasize the importance of equipping students with the skills needed to critically interrogate both historical and contemporary sources that purports to convey the inevitability of war to resolve complex social problems; we maintain this is both an educational imperative and a civic obligation.


Published in Journal of Peace Education