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US Revises History Textbooks After Sept. 11 - 2002-09-04


A year after the September 11 terrorist attacks, American high school students can read about the event and its consequences in their revised history books. The cataclysmic event has also inspired hundreds of commercial books for the general public.

Since the 9-11 tragedy, several hundred books have been rushed into print, from heart-wrenching first-person accounts to political treatises on Islam and the roots of terrorism.

Book Magazine editor Jerome Kramer is not surprised.

"I think you have got an unprecedented, cataclysmic event that took place in the heart of the world's entertainment, media, and financial center," he said. "So I think you have an awful lot of attention being paid to the event, literally from the second it began to happen."

There are books for adults, teenagers, and young children, memoirs from wives and loved ones of some who perished and photography books showing the heroic rescue work of firefighters and policemen in New York and Washington.

At least 40 have made it to the top of the best-seller lists. Mr. Kramer says the most popular these days are the personal accounts, but books that deal with the consequences and the causes are still to come.

"The broader portraits that look at Islam or terrorism and how we got here, the seeds that were sown, Afghanistan before and after - those are not going to be as quick to be found on peoples' coffee tables at the anniversary," he said. "But they will be, in the long run, the books with the greater impact."

Looking objectively at the tragedy from different angles also has been a top concern for textbook publishers, as they rushed to revise their secondary-school history books.

"We actually were in the process of revising our books. Our books had just gone to press," said. David Lippman, Senior Vice President for the Texas-based textbook publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

His company, like many others, was able to stop the presses at the last minute to make the necessary revisions and reschedule publication. He says more than 100,000 history books have been shipped for the start of the school term.

Mr. Lippman says a chapter was added at the end of the history textbook, about six pages of details on the September terrorist attack and U.S. military operations in Afghanistan that followed.

"It is very difficult when you are doing a history book, when you are writing something that is going on currently," he said. "History is generally something that is viewed from a perspective of several years beyond and when things are going on right at the moment, you just try to be as objective as possible and give as much factual material as you can."

These days most textbook publishers also maintain Internet sites that keep history lessons as up-to-date as possible.

For the professionals who do the textbook revisions, space is their biggest enemy. University of California History Professor Gary Nash worked on the revision of the high school American history textbook, The American Odyssey.

"In a textbook of 900 or 1,000 pages, you would think there would be plenty of room. But there is so much to cover," he said. "And adding at the very end, it would of course be necessary to deal with 9-11 and the military interventions in Afghanistan. But one can only have a few paragraphs, so the challenge is how do you get 11th grade kids thinking about 9-11, its importance, its meaning, its causes and remedies to it?"

Professor Nash also stresses the need to get students thinking about more than just the horror of 9-11.

"Terrorism is not new and we hope we get the readers of the 11th grade textbook to think about the origins of terrorism and what we are dealing with, not simply a group of crazed people, not just evil against freedom," he said. "They have to think about the sources and see it in less simplistic terms, not just good against evil."

Textbook publisher Lippman agrees.

"We are very concerned that this not be construed as something as anti-Muslim or anti-Islam," he said. "We wanted to be sure to put it in its proper context."

Mr. Lippman's company, like other textbook publishers, also includes videos and teachers' guidelines to help get students talking seriously about such sensitive issues.

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