Indiana State University Newsroom

Author speaks at Cunningham Library about history of textbooks

July 24, 2010

While poring over every U.S. history textbook written during the past 200 years, Kyle Ward found that all of them mentioned the pilgrims - even though they weren't the first to discover North America or to found a colony.

Ward, an Indiana State University alumnus, said the prominent role in which pilgrims have been placed in U.S. history can be attributed to early textbooks written by New England-based authors.

"The story I try to teach my students is now we know that history depends on where you read it and when you read it... and depending on the interpretation, the perspective and bias of the authors, the interpretation and perspective might have a bigger impact than the actual historic event itself," Ward said.

During his presentation at Cunningham Memorial Library Wednesday, Ward told a crowd about the information he gleaned for his books "Not Written in Stone: Learning and Unlearning American History through 200 Years of Textbooks" and "History in the Making: An Absorbing Look at How American History Has Changed in the Telling over the Last 200 Years."

A crew from C-SPAN's Book TV was among the crowd at Ward's presentation. The crew recorded the event that will be aired on the cable channel at a future date.

Ward, who earned his doctorate in history education from ISU in 2007 and is now director of social studies education at St. Cloud University in Minnesota, said Cunningham library's Floyd and Walker Family Collection of 19th century textbooks inspired his research.

Before David Vancil, chair and coordinator of the library's special collections department, introduced Ward to those resources, there had been little interest in them.

"They didn't get much use, except from a history education class that looked at a few copies every year or so," Vancil said.

When he began his research, Ward intended to focus primarily on high school textbooks, he said, but he soon learned that prior to the 20th century the majority of Americans completed only grades one through eight. A high school education became more common in the 1940s and 1950s, he said.

Ward divided his research into three categories: how perceptions of some events have changed, how some have disappeared entirely and how some remained largely the same. Under the category of what remains the same, what students in the 18th century learned about Benedict Arnold, the Revolutionary War general, is nearly identical to more recent texts.

"If you are a traitor in 1796, we don't care for you; if you're a traitor in 2010 we still don't care for you," Ward said.

"Not Written in Stone" is intended to inspire students' learn more about history through their own research.

"What I hope happens is that people read these things, discover that interpretations, perspectives and biases have changed over the years," Ward said.


Cutline: Kyle Ward, ISU alumnus, speaks about his research into how textbooks through the years present history. ISU Photo/Jennifer Sicking

Contact: David Vancil, chairperson, Special Collections, Indiana State University, 812- 237-2611 or

Writer: Nick Hedrick, media relations assistant, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or