Contested Identities and Common Narratives: A Study of Racial Representation in State Social Studies Content Standards

Open Access
Anderson, Carl Bohning
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 27, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Scott Alan Metzger, Dissertation Advisor
  • Scott Alan Metzger, Committee Chair
  • David Alexander Gamson, Committee Member
  • Stephanie Cayot Serriere, Committee Member
  • Jeanine M Staples, Committee Member
  • racial representation
  • history curriculum
This study is a thematic textual analysis of United States History standards in light of how they represent the historical experiences of people of color within broader national narratives, as well as how they integrate controversial or contested elements of race relations in America into their overall national narratives. This mixed methods collective case study uses a multi-perspective critical theoretical framework to investigate how nine polities represent the experiences of people of color during three distinct time periods: the Civil Rights Movement; the revolutionary era, the early U.S. republic, the Civil War, and Reconstruction; and westward expansion of the early republic and post-Civil War United States. The standards were evaluated on both the quality of treatment and the style of use of how racialized identities were deployed during the relevant time periods. The analysis revealed that the standards generally construct simplistic narratives about race relations in U.S. history and emphasize rote cognitive skills over critical historical thinking. The standards also typically avoid politics and controversy by using omniscient and vague language and generate a safe multicultural narrative that accentuates the cultural contributions of people of color within a framework of linear progress on race relations. The standards ultimately perpetuate a contributory model of racial inclusion and a normative narrative of American progress and exceptionalism within U.S. History curricula. The resultant compromise curriculum seeks to advance a consensus notion of how race has shaped American history, but its overemphasis on superficial content coverage limits the potential for teachers and students to think more critically about historical and present-day issues of social identity.