All the History I Learned in my Youth Came from the American Girl Doll BooksBreaking News
tags: history education, textbooks, children, teaching history
Every book also included a section called “A Peek Into the Past,” an epilogue-cum-newsreel that gave further historical context for the stories. Were those sections factually accurate? Who knows! But Addy’s story had an advisory board including the founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and several historians and scholars of slavery, which I can almost guarantee is more than some of my elementary school history textbooks could boast.
I loved these books so much that I read even the ones that didn’t correspond to my dolls (though perhaps with a slightly less fierce loyalty), and though I was past prime demographic age when the Pleasant Company shifted their focus to contemporary “Just Like You” dolls, I felt genuinely sad for all the kids who wouldn’t get to learn about wartime rationing from Molly, or the legitimate concerns of the Loyalists during the American Revolution from Felicity’s grandfather.
There was something special about learning history this way—from the perspective of these girls. Even the bizarrely consumerist aspect of learning it from books created for overpriced dolls feels strangely subversive to me, now. Like, you just wanted me to buy more accessories, but joke’s on you because I’m learning!
That’s the thing about capitalism: it’s mostly terrible, but sometimes it teaches you the dangers of bringing raccoons into close proximity with oil lamps.
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