AHA Issues Statement on Threats to Historical Integrity in Texas (July 2021)

Historians in the News
tags: AHA, Texas, culture war, teaching history

In a statement on the recently-enacted Texas House Bill 3979, the American Historical Association “views with alarm several provisions” in the so-called “divisive concepts” legislation, including those affecting state institutions that present history to the public. “By hindering the professional development of public historians and restricting funding,” the AHA’s statement says, “this law would prevent state-owned agencies and facilities from presenting accurate views of Texas history, and would hobble fundraising efforts crucial to the vibrant state-sponsored public-history sector.” The legislation “clearly violates” the AHA’s Standards for Museum Exhibits Dealing with Historical Subjects and “will adversely affect not only K–12 students, but all Texans and visitors who want to learn more about the state's complicated past.”

21 organizations have signed onto this statement to date.

Download the statement as a PDF.

Approved by AHA Council, July 2021

The American Historical Association views with alarm several provisions in Texas House Bill 3979 (An Act Relating to the Social Studies Curriculum in Public Schools), recently signed into law by Governor Abbott.

In addition to the educational focus indicated in its title, this deeply flawed legislation adversely affects state institutions that present history to the public. One provision hinders the professional development of curators, administrators, and other employees in facilities such as museums, libraries, parks, and historical societies. Another would impede essential fundraising efforts on the part of those facilities. As a result of this law, historical programming for the public throughout the state could be severely compromised. This makes no sense in a state that has created such world-class history institutions as the Bullock Texas State History Museum, and whose history provides important lessons to residents and visitors alike. Not all teaching about history takes place in classrooms. The citizens of Texas deserve to learn an accurate account of the state's history when they visit the many public venues that sponsor exhibits, offer signage for historical sites, and show documentary films, among other forms of historical interpretation.

As stipulated in the law, in the process of offering professional development training, state employees are prohibited from including any concept that would make an individual “feel discomfort.” Professional development related to historical presentation is critical to the training and credentialing of historians and their colleagues in any venue where historical information is presented. To require that these individuals be shielded from any historical themes or events that cause them “discomfort” would be to outlaw the presentation of basic, incontrovertible facts related to the history of Texas (or the history of any state or nation, for that matter). If state employees who present historical information to Texans and visitors are not sufficiently knowledgeable about the less-admirable aspects of our history, they will not only offer flawed presentations; they also will be placed in the very uncomfortable position of not being able to respond to questions posed by thoughtful visitors.

Read entire article at American Historical Association