David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
So What About History? By Edmund S. Morgan. (New York, N.Y., Atheneum Publishers, 1969). Illustrated. 95 pages. $4.43.
Reviewed by Mrs. Barbara Dawson, principal of Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, and a member of the Board of Directors of the San Diego History Center. She has written articles for such periodicals as National Parent-Teacher, Zoonooz, and Arts and Activities. She received her B.A. and M.A. degrees from San Diego State College.
Dr. Morgan’s book is a new simplified approach to history. He maintains that “History is junk,” but by studying a collection of junk, people can begin to understand history.
The author asks why people should bother to study junk. He feels that peoples’ natural curiosity motivates them to do this. By studying junk, people can begin to understand groups of people who have existed in the past, by learning to understand ancestors, people come to understand themselves. Studying history by putting together the jig saw pieces of junk enables us to learn where we came from; what we are; that history repeats itself; that the present is based on the past; and, that the future will be built on and modified by the facts of the past.
“History, then, is not just about things that have stayed the same or have been used over and over again. It is also the story of change; change in ideas, change in ways of building, dressing, and doing things, change in the way we live together, peaceful change and violent change, changes we like and changes we do not like. It has to do with the choices people make between old ideas and new, between old ways of doing things and new untried ways. We have seen that changes are not always easy to bring about, that a great deal of the past has lived on into the present. But changes do come, and it is interesting to ask ourselves just how much change we ourselves can make or want to make in the world we have inherited from the past” (p. 75).
Dr. Morgan’s book of less than one hundred pages is fascinating though concise. He is able to inspire in the reader a desire to study history through his many meaningful pictures and sensible, clear-cut, descriptive chapters.
The book is aimed principally at the young reader and should be in all school libraries and read by junior historians or those who are just becoming aware of the study of history as an intriguing pastime. It would be a good prerequisite to any introductory history class, or as preparation for undertaking The Source by James Michener which would enable the reader to better understand the more complex work. In fact anyone who has curiosity and likes to read would enjoy So What About History? Dr. Morgan’s approach is modern. It is a book that is quickly read but not quickly forgotten.