A professor of history at Bowdoin College, Patrick Rael is a specialist in African American history. His most recent book, Eighty-Eight Years: The Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865 (2015), was a finalist for the Harriet Tubman Prize, awarded by the New York Library’s Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. His other works include Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (2002), African American Activism before the Civil War: The Freedom Struggle in the Antebellum North (2008), and Pamphlets of Protest: An Anthology of Early African-American Protest Literature (2001). He has written extensively about teaching, has contributed to the development of African American history curricula, and for over a decade has led seminars and workshops on teaching American history in primary and secondary schools.
This talk was first presented at the 2016 Symposium for History Undergraduate Research. Rael explores the problems and nuggets of truth found in three big clichés about History: (1) We learn lessons from the past to avoid repeating mistakes; (2) History is written by the winners; and (3) History is lies agreed upon. While largely untrue, these aphorisms permit us to think critically about historians' roles in the conduct of constructive public discourse.