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The challenges of teaching history in contention times.
Ross Douthat, a very idiosyncratic kind of conservative, the Catholic intellectual traditionalist, a type more common in Britain than the United States, published a much commented upon column on, of all things, the French and Indian War.
A Hollywood favorite — thanks to Last of the Mohicans — this conflict, one small part of the much more sweeping Seven Years War, did play, as Douthat suggests, a key role in European geopolitics, the evolution of European empires, and the forging of a distinctive American identity.
Douthat’s column is especially interested in how the conflict might be taught in K-12 schools. He makes a strong case that the war offers an outstanding opportunity for teachers to bring history to life. For one thing, the conflict provides a picture perfect opportunity for students to wrestle with the idea of contingency. After all, the war erupted partly out of accident. An incident at the conflict’s onset might have ended George Washington’s career or even his life. And the outcome was an extremely close call.
The struggle also raises a gripping counterfactual question: What if the French and their Indian allies had prevailed?
Two other issues raised by the column […]