History, as it is taught in primary education, provides the foundation on which individuals understand and attempt to make sense of the progression of society as they grow and develop into adulthood. The way history is taught and the particular histories of marginalized groups is ignored or glossed over impacts how people understand different groups, their contributions, and their importance. The Industrial Revolution is often heralded as a major turning point in global history that has significantly shaped the world into what it is today; however, the experiences of women, especially middle and working class women, are often taught superficially at best, while the experiences of gay men are largely overlooked. This creates false assumptions about what these groups did or did not contribute during this pivotal era, and promotes a homogenous, heteronormative understanding of modern history that positions women’s work and the existence of gay men as new phenomena. “Understanding” history in this way creates negative stereotypes, narratives, and perceptions of these communities that make achieving social equality more difficult.
I propose to do a comparative study of how the Industrial Revolution is taught in high school history classes with regard to gender, class, and sexuality in 10 schools across the United States, half of which would be public and the other half would be private. This study would seek to reveal differences in the way students are taught about marginalized groups in a critical era in history, and would endeavor to assess the strengths and shortcomings of different approaches. The end goal of this project would be to create a curricula that could be applied in both public and private high schools that would more accurately reflect and teach the experiences and contributions of women of different social classes and gay men in the Industrial Revolution. Given the influence of education in shaping students’ perspectives and understanding of the world around them, I will study and seek to answer the central question of how high schools can best teach the Industrial Revolution to promote a fair, equitable understanding of the experiences and contributions of marginalized groups, thinking specifically about the intersections of class, gender, and sexuality.
It is important to note that the underlying assumption in this study, beyond that the Industrial Revolution is taught in ways that do not reflect the social reality of the time, is that the Industrial Revolution primarily affected and so is taught in relation to white people in Western nations. This assumption should also be problematized in the final curriculum developed at the end of this project. This grant would enable me to examine the curricula of different public and private schools representing different regions of the United States to understand how the Industrial Revolution is taught similarly or differently, and to offer changes to better reflect the experiences of primarily working and middle class white women, as well as white gay men in the hope of giving students a better understanding of the contributions and experiences of these groups.