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15th January 2005Bias in school history textbooks:
By Michael Boyle
Representations of the British invasion of Zululand by Michael Lieven.

After reflecting on the vast amount of mis-information on the AZW attributed to sloppy research and feeling that the reason for that could also be attributed to ingrained bias I got to thinking where the root (or route) of that bias may lie. Given the seemingly natural inclination for people to credit information that supports their own opinions and to dismiss that which does not (often ignoring substance in the process) it occurred to me that the problem could be an inability to overcome what was learned during the impressionable years of childhood. So I tried to research that and lo! and behold! I came across the above paper which supports my opinion! (Actually not, it simply documents the many perturbations in the teaching of AZW history,with examples and footnotes, that could explain many subsequent misperceptions.)

If you have the time I think you'll find it quite informative.


15th January 2005Derek C
Ah, yes, the old saying ...... History is written by the victors.
15th January 2005John Young

I've only skimmed the article, but the author of it, and the accompanying text for the illustrations are equally guilty of sloppy research. May be they should have done their own homework first, and not only from the text books!

Sad too, that the author did not consider material from works other than text books which would have countered his whole premise - as an example I cite 'Cetywayo's Story of the Zulu Nation and the War' from 'MacMillan's Magazine', published in February, 1880. Which also refutes Derek's saying above.

That said, the books mentioned by the author were in use when Britain was an imperial power. What better way to teach those of my father's and of my grandfathers' generations than with tales of deeds of daring and imperial conquest, considering what their generations were to face in 1914-18 & 1939-45?

John Y.
15th January 2005Michael Boyle

Any idea if 'Cetywayo's Story of the Zulu Nation and the War' article is available today?I'd like to add it to my ever increasing collection.

I spent a fair amount of time on Lieven's article and believe his main emphasis was the slant taken on various school books, although he does cite a study confirming that most school children in fact recieve much of their historical information from other sources and cites a few 'Boy's Own' type publications aimed at children. However I don't know how many kids would have been reading 'MacMillan's Magazine'! (Depends on the pictorial content I suppose.)

One of the most interesting facets of the article was the fact that quite a few of the old texts were not only still in use, but being reprinted up to the late sixties. Thus his conclusion "The period from the highpoint of empire until at least the 1960s saw clear evidence of consistently tendentious writing backed up by an often-casual regard for accuracy." Which led me to wonder if any of the post war generation readers there remember any of them?

I know for myself and many of my friends over here that our years of childhood education required further years of adult re-education in order to purge many of the iconistic 'historical facts' we held so dear.(Many more refusing to be dis-avowed of their illusions!) Unfortunately for many the importance of historical knowledge seems to fade rapidily once the last exam is taken as few real-world jobs require it.


16th January 2005Derek C
Good points. I was schooled in S.A. and would love to get my hands on a copy of our old history book. This was during the 60's & 70's, during the Nationalist Party reign. I remember that the Boers were portrayed in glowing colours, and I'll be darned if I can remember anything about the Zulu perspective.

To John Young,
The point you make about refuting the old saying, in my opinion, only strenghtens it. Surey the fact that Cetywayo's story of 1880 was probably NOT found in text books for decades afterwards (I'm going to exlude magazines as text books) props up the old saying?

Here's where I shoot myself in the foot, again..... look at the posters names on this forum, .. carefuly. Doesn't the lack of Zulu names tell us something? Where is the Isandlwana Defeat site? The Boers still brag about Vegkop (more impressive figures than Rorke's Drift, to be honest, just no medals). Were the concentration camps and scorched earth policy justfied by the British? Was shooting British soldiers while the Boers flew the white flag justified? This is what makes history so facinating, there are always 3 sides to the story.

"Hey Son, get me a beer and I'll tell you why O.J. is innocent and Michael Jackson normal".
16th January 2005John Young

Yes it is available contact me by e-mail.


Had the author of the piece, confined his work to text books, then your view might hold water. However, a number of the works cited by Michael Lieven as 'text books' are actually 19th century magazines.

Over a century after it was first published the 'MacMillan's Magazine' did find its way into a University of Natal published book - 'A Zulu King Speaks', published in 1987, when the old entrenched regime was still in power.

As to concentration camps, despite claims to the contrary that I read elsewhere on this site that they were used by the British in the 1st Anglo-Boer War of 1880-1, to my knowledge they were first used against the Cubans in the Spanish-American War of 1898 by the Spanish. The victors of that campaign also used them, I am led to believe, to concentrate the families of the defeated Spanish forces. Wasn't one such camp was at Guantanamo Bay?

But the fact you learnt about the camps of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War, proves that not all history is written by the victors, doesn't it?

As to Vegkop and the defeat of 5,000 Ndebele warriors, the Boers had firearms whereas the Ndebele had none - but that's history written by the victors!

John Y.
17th January 2005Julian whybra
Concentration camps go back to the American Civil War as used by the Union side for the Confederates
18th January 2005Derek C
You are right, not all history is written by the victors. I'ts an old saying that has been around for decades and does not apply to every instance. Just like "he who hesitates is lost" can be counted with "look before you leap".

Every defeated army/nation has their version of events too. I was not taught history by the British but by a pro-Afrikaans government, hence the reference to the concentration camps, the deaths of women and children and the torching of farms.

S.A. only achieved full inderpenence from the British in 1961. The victorious regime kept that 'MacMillan's Magazine' article out of print, yet the entrenched regime got it printed, albeit 25 years later. Go figure.

Your comment about Vegkop, how is that any different to what happened at Rorkes Drift, and the very backbone of this site? Your point eludes me.
18th January 2005John Young

Re-Vegkop - Potgieter, Cilliers and the others had their own and spare firearms. The Ndebele had none.

At Rorke's Drift the defenders had firearms, as did the attackers. Look at what weapons inflicted a number of injuries to the defenders -firearms. That's my point.

John Y.
21st January 2005Derek C

I accept your point, to a point. One must compare apples to apples though. Remember that at Vegkop, all they had were muzzleloaders, not modern MH breech loading rifles. The Zulus on the Oskarbergh didn't have MH rifles. Their fire was largely inaccurate and ceased during attacks. Look at the ratios' between Rorkes drift and Vegkop. Look at the ratio's between attackers and defenders, fatalities and wounded. Granted, the Boers had horsemen, but how many? While no two battles are the same, I think Vegkop is right up there with Rorke's Drift (under the circumstances). One must give credit where credit is due.

I salute the brave men of Rorke's Drift and their victory. I salute the brave Zulu's and their victory at Isandlwana. I'm greatful that the entrenched regime published articles that the British chose not too etc. etc. Surely history should be viewed with eyes wide open, regardless of ones heritage of favorite "team"?