Georgia history textbooks are used in the state’s public school systems to educate eighth-grade students about Georgia’s diverse past, cultures, and peoples.
These textbooks also discuss current political, economic, and social events (in Georgia and the United States) and seek to illustrate the organization and duties of local, state, and federal governmental systems. The two textbooks that have been approved by the Georgia Board of Education for use in the public schools are The Georgia Studies Book: Our State and the Nation, by Edwin L. Jackson et al. (published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia) and Georgia: The History of an American State, by Bonita Bullard London (published by Clairmont Press).
For a variety of reasons, textbooks on Georgia history for middle school students did not materialize until late in the nineteenth century. First, Georgia was the last of the original thirteen colonies and thus did not establish colleges, universities, and secondary school systems as early as did the other states. (State history texts began to appear in many New England states in the 1820s and 1830s, and one was even written for South Carolina students in 1840.) Second, the vast majority of the nation’s colleges and universities required prospective freshmen to have credits in and a knowledge of U.S. and world history but not local or state histories. Finally, Georgia’s public school system was not fully organized and developed until after the Civil War (1861-65). Together, these conditions did not foster the opportunity, much less the need, for writers and publishing companies to produce a state history text for young Georgians until after Reconstruction.
Noted Georgia scholar and educator Lawton Bryan Evans wrote what was probably the first Georgia history textbook for adolescents. Born in Lumpkin in 1862, Evans saw the need for a state history textbook while working on a master’s degree at the University of Georgia in the early 1880s. Published in 1884 and entitled The Student’s History of Georgia: From the Earliest Discoveries and Settlements to the End of the Year 1883, this book and its subsequent revisions came to be regarded as the standard school text on Georgia history for many years. Besides serving as a teacher and superintendent in Richmond County, Evans went on to write several other textbooks on Georgia history and English for use in Georgia’s school districts. Evans also contributed numerous scholarly articles to school journals nationwide.
Beginning in the early 1900s other writers produced state history texts that revised and updated the information in Evans’s publications. These books included The Story of Georgia: For Georgia Boys and Girls, by Katherine B. Massey and Laura Glenn Wood (1904) and J. Harris Chappell’s Georgia History Stories (1905). Throughout the rest of the twentieth century, dozens of other state history textbooks followed in the wake of these first few written works.
The Georgia legislature also did its part to encourage the development of the public schools’ social studies curricula and the availability of efficient teaching materials. A 1923 law stipulated that all state schools and colleges sustained by public funds “shall give instruction in the essentials of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Georgia, including the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals,” which many schools interpreted as providing courses in state history as well. The Free Textbook Act of 1937 provided that textbooks be supplied free of charge to every public school student and authorized the state Board of Education to prescribe, by regulation, a choice of textbooks for every grade and subject. County systems, and sometimes individual schools, were free to choose from the state-approved list whichever textbooks their Georgia history teachers desired, and they often elected to teach Georgia history at different grade levels (from the fourth to the eighth grade). Not until the Quality Basic Education Act of 1985 did the General Assembly specifically mandate that Georgia studies be taught statewide in the eighth grade, in a manner prescribed by the state Board of Education and in adherence to the state’s Quality Core Curriculum guidelines. The state Board of Education approves a list of textbooks for this course every seven years.
As is true in practically every state in the nation, Georgia over the years has experienced its share of public controversy regarding the type and tone of material published in certain state and U.S. history textbooks. At one time or another such special interest groups as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Fulton County Medical Society, the John Birch Society, and the American Legion organized protests objecting to material they deemed harmful, un-American, or anti-Christian. Many of these attacks focused on a textbook’s liberal interpretation of civil rights or Reconstruction; other critics denounced what they saw as an author’s belief in evolution or communism. Some protesters voiced concern about textbooks that allegedly delved into sexual matters; others objected to texts that encouraged critical inquiry instead of adopting the traditional, straightforward narrative approach to teaching history.
The state Board of Education has banned a few social studies texts containing material that some education and public officials found too controversial. Examples of such prohibited books include Frank Magruder’s American Government, banned in 1951 for being too “socialist,” and Edwin Fenton’s The Americans: A History of the United States, banned in 1972 for its views on race and the Vietnam conflict as well as for Fenton’s belief in the “critical inquiry” approach to social studies.
Social studies textbooks themselves are historical documents, for they represent the culture, the fads, and the concerns of the period in which they were published. Texts published 100, 50, or even 10 years apart often present vastly different historical depictions of various people and events. Perhaps in no other area is this more evident than that of race. Recent social studies textbooks, dating from the 1970s to the present, give a much different picture of such issues as slavery, Reconstruction, and civil rights than do texts written long ago.
A 1983 Georgia Social Science Journal article by Steven M. Terry shows that the Reconstruction era is the most radically reinterpreted historical event in many Georgia history textbooks. Early authors, like Evans, Massey, and Wood, followed the interpretation of Reconstruction to which most historians of the time subscribed. This school of thought was sympathetic toward the South and white southerners and highly critical of the Radical Republican position. Early texts typically looked unfavorably upon African Americans and denounced the supposed evils and chaos caused by freedpeople during Reconstruction.
A revisionist interpretation began to develop in the 1960s among many of the nation’s historians. Such texts as Albert B. Saye’s Georgia History and Government (1973) and Lawrence R. Hepburn’s The Georgia History Book (1982), for example, tended to cover aspects of African American history and culture more favorably than before and avoided a prosouthern slant when discussing Reconstruction politics. A similarly liberal view of race and race relations is the norm today in Georgia history textbooks and other social studies texts.
Chronological List of Georgia History Textbooks
Lawton B. Evans, The Student’s History of Georgia: From the Earliest Discoveries and Settlements to the End of the Year 1883 (Macon, Ga.: J. W. Burke and Co., 1884).
Charles H. Smith, A School History of Georgia: Georgia as a Colony and a State, 1733-1893 (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1893).
Lawton B. Evans, A History of Georgia for Use in Schools (New York: University Publishing, 1904).
Katherine B. Massey and Laura Glenn Wood, The Story of Georgia: For Georgia Boys and Girls (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1904).
J. Harris Chappell, Georgia History Stories (New York: Silver, Burdett, 1905).
Lawton B. Evans, First Lessons in Georgia History (New York: American Book, 1913).
Jennie Akers Bloodworth, Getting Acquainted with Georgia (Dallas, Tex.: Southern Publishing, 1926).
Edward S. Sell et al., The Story of Georgia: A School History of Our State (Atlanta: Science Research Associates, 1942).
Ruth Elgin Suddeth, Isa Lloyd Osterhout, and George Lewis Hutcheson, Empire Builders of Georgia (Austin, Tex.: Steck, 1951).
E. Merton Coulter et al., History of Georgia (New York: American Book, 1954).
Albert B. Saye, Georgia Government and History (Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson, ).
James C. Bonner, The Georgia Story (Oklahoma City, Okla.: Harlow, 1958).
Bernice McCullar, This Is Your Georgia (Northport, Ala.: American Southern, 1966).
Albert B. Saye, Georgia History and Government (Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn, 1973).
Bernice McCullar and Sibley Jennings, This Is Your Georgia, rev. ed. (Montgomery, Ala.: Viewpoint, 1977).
Lawrence R. Hepburn, The Georgia History Book (Athens: Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 1982).
Louis DeVorsey Jr. et al., A Panorama of Georgia (Marceline, Mo.: Walsworth Publishing, 1987).
W. Bruce Wingo, Steven M. Terry, and Ron Bussler, Georgia in American Society (Stone Mountain, Ga.: Linton Day, 1987).
Edwin L. Jackson et al., The Georgia Studies Book (Athens: Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 1991).
Edwin L. Jackson et al., The Georgia Studies Book: Our State and the Nation (Athens: Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 1998).
Bonita Bullard London, Georgia: The History of an American State (Montgomery, Ala.: Clairmont Press, 1999).