In 2019, The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) embarked on a new initiative devoted to the study of history. As part of that initiative, the Center for Statesmanship, Law, and Liberty (CSLL) at the Rochester Institute of Technology hosted and co-sponsored the Twelfth Annual Carl B. Menges Colloquium: ‘Last Best, Hope’: Citizenship, Statesmanship, and American History.” The event featured two best-selling authors: AHI Resident Fellow Mary Grabar, author of Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America (Regnery, 2019) and Wilfred McClay, the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, author of Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (Encounter, 2019). As of the beginning of December, these two complementary volumes have sold, within a few months of publication, nearly 30,000 copies.
High-school teachers from across the country attended the colloquium. On Friday evening, Dr. Grabar discussed the baneful impact on the study of history of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States (1980), a book that has sold more than 2.6 million copies. Grabar pointed out that an entire industry has developed around the book, which has penetrated deeply the curriculum in high schools and on college campuses across the country. In a PowerPoint demonstration, Grabar exposed the People’s History as a tissue of half-truths and untruths. Indeed, as she pointed out in ample detail, Zinn violates every standard of the discipline in writing the book. In essence, it is a cleverly disguised left-wing, anti-American polemic peddled as a serious work of history. Zinn’s many sins of omission and commission range from relentless sloppiness to plagiarism and outright mendacity.
Following her presentation, Dr. Grabar led a panel that included AHI president Robert Paquette, CSLL director Joseph Fornieri, and John Daly, Associate Professor of History, Brockport University. With the audience, they discussed the teaching of history, its use and abuse, and the standards appropriate to the discipline. Too often, as many of the participants observed, scholars of both the left and right plunder the past for evidence to be used in forwarding a political agenda. In dynamic interaction with experience and reason, the study of history should afford a fundamental path to knowledge, “a great volume,” as Edmund Burke put it, “unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind.”
On Saturday evening, Dr. McClay delivered the keynote address, which continued the conversation about the study of history. He explained his reasons for writing Land of Hope, its structure and themes. Paquette reviewed the volume in manuscript. “In Land of Hope,” he wrote, “Bill McClay succeeds at multitasking. He has written not only a learned and readable history of the United States, from Columbus to Trump, with balance and integrity but has provided an insightful primer on the meaning of citizenship itself. McClay reminds us that although history holds no easy lessons, its honest practice proves indispensable in preventing the future from proceeding in darkness. Those entrusted with teaching young minds about the discipline of history as well as history will find in this volume much to fortify them.”
Land of Hope serves as a powerful corrective to Zinn’s caricature of American history. Toward that end, AHI provided copies of McClay’s book and Grabar’s, free of charge, to all teachers and students present during the colloquium. Saturday’s activities also included presentations by Dr. Tony Williams of the Bill of Rights Institute, a co-sponsor of the event, and Dr. Emily Krichbaum of the Columbus School for Girls, a college-preparatory day school located in Bexley, Ohio. Attendants combined the study of primary sources with tours to historical sites associated with Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony.
“It was a pleasure to listen to the dialogue between the panelists and the participants,” commented on teacher from Arizona. “Teachers truly do appreciate the opportunity to feed our own love of learning. Thank you for giving your time up over the weekend to spend it with us. I look forward to next year.” A teacher from Texas added, “I want to thank you and The Alexander Hamilton Institute for sponsoring an amazing educational experience this past weekend. This was my first time to attend this colloquium and I am a better educator because of the experience.”
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