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But it’s Historical!

Old stuff, textbooks, past events, etc.

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Totem, Tipi, and Tumpline

Totem Tipi and Tumpline coverTotem, Tipi and Tumpline: Stories of Canadian Indians
Fisher and Tyner
1955, paperback edition 1975

Submitter: I am a teacher in Ontario, Canada and came across this book in the teacher resource library at our school. There is currently a national discussion in Canada about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, including health care, access to services and clean water, and reparations for the Indian Residential School system (widely recognized as cultural genocide). Thus, education about Indigenous cultures and communities is an important issue in Canadian schools.

When selecting resources, best practices shared in our teacher professional development circles recommend choosing books that are written by Indigenous authors, that include permission for cultural knowledge and stories to be shared by the individuals/elders/groups/tribes from whom they were collected, and that portray not just historical cultural practices, but also show a contemporary view of Indigenous peoples and their lifestyles.

This book does none of those things.  Low-lights include:
– while this edition (1975) does feature a cover illustration from an Indigenous artist, the rest of the text is unchanged from the first 1955 printing.  All other illustrations are by a non-Indigenous artist
– the authors’ voice is that “Indian” culture existed only in the past. They only credit previous copyrighted work and museums for the stories (no mention of the original knowledge keepers)
– describing “Indians” as one homogeneous group (there are over 630 different First Nations in Canada, as well as Métis and Inuit, speaking more than 50 diverse languages)
– giving an in-depth description of the Sun Dance, which is an extremely sacred  ceremony that many First Nations prefer not to be filmed or portrayed (interesting to find it described here as the Sun Dance was suppressed and illegal under Canadian Law from 1885-1951)
– teaching a song from the Sun Dance (it is unclear where this song is from, whether the lyrics are authentic, and if anyone would have permission to use this song outside of the Sun Dance)

– a play for children to perform featuring regalia and face paint as part of the costumes (this is pure cultural appropriation – a preschool in Quebec recently made national front page news when teachers wore imitation headdresses at an event)

WorldCat only shows this book in university/archival library holdings (where it belongs!), but I wonder how many copies are still around on school bookshelves? While the book does include some cultural information that is valid, the way it was collected and is presented is from a colonial (racist) view.  We can do better!

Holly: I am glad to hear that there are archival holdings, and I’d be interested to know if it is also in tribal libraries, where the context can be best understood as historical. School libraries in Canada can do better for their students. Thank you, Submitter!

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Major Social Problems

Major Social Problems coverMajor social problems
Raab and Selznick

Submitter: Considering this book was published in 1959, it is not nearly as bad as it could be. The authors take a broad view of social problems, recognizing, for example, that “Negroes” are discriminated against in all aspects of society (socially, politically, economically, in law enforcement, etc.). For example, the book includes a page which has snippets of discriminatory texts from travel agencies and hotels—fascinating and damning stuff.

Where it goes seriously awry is in its “adaptations,” abridged adaptations from other publications. There are short introductory statements to these adaptations, but the authors of the textbook don’t criticize the excerpts, they simply present them as thought-provoking alternate viewpoints. One adaptation, “A southerner’s view of desegregation,” written by Thomas Waring and originally published in Harper’s magazine in January 1956, is particularly offensive, taking a white man’s burden view of desegregation efforts. Another, “Predicting parole success and failure,” adapted from the 1951 book of the same name by Lloyd E. Ohlin, doesn’t hesitate to use stereotypes to categorize people, such as “drunkard,” “sex deviant,” and… um… “’farmer’,” for some reason??

The weirdest section by far was an excerpt of an article published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in February 1956, “The battle for health… and dollars” by Marguerite Shepard. Shepard appears to be in the pocket of Big Polio, as she seems extremely put out by the amount of money those swindlers fighting polio have been raking in.

Oh, and the cover’s pretty awful, too. An overdue weed from our small liberal arts college library’s collection, though I admit I feel comforted by the fact that 237 other libraries hold this book for those who are interested in researching late 1950s attitudes to “major social problems.”

Holly: This belongs *somewhere,* but that isn’t a small liberal arts college. Amazing what you unearth when weeding hasn’t been done for a while.

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A Communist Insider Tells All

communists in britain cover

The Communist Technique in Britain

This Cold War relic is actually an interesting book. It’s less dogma and more about the inner politics of the Communist Party in Britain and how the British Communists exert a great deal of influence more than would be indicated by the size of the party. I have only read bits and pieces, but I was fascinated by the party discipline issues and the power dynamics of the Party. Cold War nerds out there: I would love to hear your thoughts.


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