Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Textbook American history has taken a beating lately. Traditional accounts of Custer’s Last Stand, immigrants’ strikes at New England textile mills, and railroad work by Chinese laborers tend to differ from revisionist versions. Among those removing historical whitewash is Capitol Hill free-lancer and sometime Washington City Paper writer Philip Burnham. On a 25,000-mile, cross-country tour, Burnham explored “the lives of common people who are faceless and nameless in most of our history.” As he read roadside markers and visited national landmarks, he completed research for How the Other Half Lived: A People’s Guide to American Historic Sites (Faber and Faber). Concentrating his analysis in five categories—Plantation, Battlefield, Railroad, Mission, and Hearth and Home—Burnham reveals the privileged few’s habitual disregard for the “other half,” which he defines as “women and a number of racial and ethnic minorities.” From Mount Vernon to the Alamo, Burnham challenges the mostly one-sided approach to history intended for public consumption. “The winner writes history,” he says. “Unfortunately, it’s usually the loser who gets to build it….Those are the people who remain invisible at most [historic] sites.”