Home   I   DVD Store   I   Online History Books   I   Video Guides   I   Historical Documents Index   I   Customer Service   I   About Us

History…from Whose Perspective?
The American Testimony and the Question of Worldview


An explanation from Bryan Hardesty, Executive Producer

The Point-of-View Dilemma


What do you see?    I first glimpsed the image to the left while attending a conference on worldview many years ago. This high-contrast ink illustration was originally employed by Harvard Business School’s Thomas Kuhn to demonstrate the influence of personal paradigms in interpreting data. (Stephen Covey reintroduced the picture to a broader audience in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.) To me, it seemed quite evident that this was an image of a lovely young Parisian-style lady, looking over her shoulder to her right. To my amazement, however, the person sitting next to me muttered that the picture was obviously of an old, ugly, frowning woman with a wart on her nose, looking downward.

    My seating neighbor and I were looking at the exact same picture, and yet we saw completely different things. What’s more, each of us thought the other person was nuts, for the illustration seemed to clearly depict only one thing. After a bit of discussion, I learned that what appeared to me to be the young Parisian lady’s left earlobe was interpreted by my neighbor as the old woman’s left eye. What I saw as the lovely gal’s necklace was viewed by the person next to me as the downtrodden hag’s mouth.

    The experience instilled in me the realization that personal perspective can easily influence our interpretations of raw data. Though we may make every effort to be unbiased, fair, and objective, it can sometimes be difficult to “see” something through the eyes of others.

    In making the U.S. history video series, The American Testimony, my company was faced with the same challenge that has plagued others who have tried to tell this nation’s story: presenting the facts with as little personal filtering as possible. We concede that this is not entirely possible. The very task of condensing endless volumes of historical information down to a manageable, 20-hour video series (as well as its associated e-book text series) requires editorial decisions over what facts to include and what to leave out. This selective act gives the author and movie-maker (in this case, me) a certain level of control over the way the information is presented. The question is: can the resulting body of work be trusted?


The Empirical Argument

    Some people have argued that all history is invalid because it is skewed by the worldview of its storytellers. That notion is flawed; for wherever empirical truth is present, personal opinion can be neutralized. As applied to history, empirical truth is defined as testable, observable evidence, or well-corroborated, indisputable eyewitness testimony. The test of a trustworthy historian, therefore, is measured by the level of empirical facts cited, as opposed to unproven theories, myths, legends, and perceived assumptions. We can accept as empirical fact—not opinion—that Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. We can accept as empirical fact—not opinion—that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC. We can accept as empirical fact—not opinion—that two commercial airline jets were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. Thus, the structural framework of history can be built with empirical facts. Unfortunately, framework alone leaves a body incomplete. If we are to learn the lessons taught by history, we must examine causes and circumstances behind each outcome of consequence, as well as the motives of those whose actions helped shaped the course of events.


A Worldview Shaped by Evidence

    Prior to scripting The American Testimony, an enormous amount of research was conducted to ensure that any observations of causative effects were based on empirical evidence, rather than personal opinions or prevailing assumptions. We embarked on the project with constant vigilance, checking our own feelings, worldviews, and agendas before proceeding. We simply wanted to learn and report the truth. The project, in turn, became a revelatory journey that unraveled many of the long-standing notions we held.

    It is important to point out that any worldview espoused in the resulting video series was formulated during the course of the empirical research phase. We did not selectively sift through the data, amplifying only those points that supported pre-established personal viewpoints. Nay, we endeavored to set aside all preconceived ideological positions before embarking on this project. The resulting tone of The American Testimony was thereafter shaped by the evidence we uncovered.


The Touchy Issue of Religious Faith and American History

    The first volumes of The American Testimony were released in 1996, and the full series was completed in early 2001. The updated, DVD edition that is now available came out near the end of 2006. The series has been overwhelmingly embraced by high school and college students, homeschooling parents, private and public school teachers, and history enthusiasts all over the world. Each week, thousands of people peruse the online text version available on this website. After all these years, I can still count on just one hand the number of accusations of bias or historical revisionism directed towards us.

    In returning the DVD series for a refund, one disgruntled customer (a school teacher, if memory serves) from Tallahassee, Florida wrote: “These are well done but unusable because of their heavy religious emphasis and bias. You should warn customers.” (He never stated which religion he felt we were biased toward.)

    Okay, be forewarned: religious faith, especially Christianity, receives due credit for its role in the birth to this nation. But that aspect arises from the evidence, not personal agendas. We simply chose not to follow the “politically correct” trend of censoring empirical information about the profound and undeniable role of the Christian faith in the early colonization and founding of the United States.

    Let’s face it: the Pilgrims did not risk almost certain death, sailing across a vast ocean to an inhospitable land, ever forsaking loved ones on European shores, for any other reason than religious freedom. For more than a century thereafter, virtually every document of community covenant, social contract, and legal interaction invoked the name of Jesus Christ. In reading diaries, journal entries, and correspondences of key figures in America’s past, we found that faith in God and devotion to Christ were predominant motivating factors; so much so that we could never have presented an accurate portrait of early America without reporting such things. In fact, the transformation of thirteen isolated, competing colonies into a single, unified national identity known as “American” was the direct result of the Great Awakening, a widespread Christian revival movement. National days of prayer and fasting were commonplace during many of the early presidencies. Should we have suppressed that information? We felt it would be irresponsible to do so. On the other hand, we weren’t going to ignore the human foibles of certain Christian communities, either. (Ever hear of the Puritans of Salem, Massachusetts? If not, rest assured that you can learn about them in The American Testimony.)


Historical Truth vs. Superficial Presumption

    It was important for us to gain an understanding of motives and causes from all sides of an issue of historical significance. Take the example of America's inaccurately-named Civil War.  Most official accounts of the conflict have reflected a predominately Northern perspective. To gain insight into the Southern cause as well, our research of historical archives led to some unexpected findings, demolishing many of our own long-held notions, including the assumption that Confederate soldiers were, by and large, slave owners. Our jaws dropped when the 1860 census revealed that a whopping 94 percent of residents in slave states did NOT own slaves. We were further flummoxed to discover that 700 Americans of African descent fought—fully armed—on the side of the Confederacy in the first battle of Bull Run. We also read Union Army field reports stating that up to a third of Stonewall Jackson’s forces in Maryland were black Confederates. There was even a rarely seen document where famed abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass complained about the “many colored men in the Confederate Army.” Additionally, we uncovered records verifying that 13,000 Hispanic volunteers and 8 Cherokee Indian regiments fought on the side of the South. These facts flew in the face of every belief we held about southern, “white” motives in the Civil War, and whenever we tried to dismiss one paradigm-challenging document as unreliable, we would end up uncovering other sources that confirmed its authenticity. Life would have been much easier if we just went along with the politically-correct current of thought; but we could not, in good conscience, suppress the myth-busting truth. This Civil War anecdote is but one of many instances where deep research led to unexpected revelations that challenged the “prevailing wisdom” of our current culture.


Judgment Calls

    Although our quest has been to maintain a “just the facts” approach, this does not mean we completely shied away from making assessments and judgment calls. We simply made sure we could back up the conclusions we drew. The title of the eighth volume of The American Testimony is The "New Deal" Autocracy and World War 2.  Yes, the word “autocracy” certainly sounds opinionated on the surface, but it accurately reflects a period in the nation’s history when the legislative and judicial branches of government deferred to the heavy-handed will of the executive branch (although the judiciary fiercely resisted at first).

    Evaluations of American presidents were based on simple criteria: how well they adhered to their duties as defined by The Constitution of the United States, and how fervently they upheld their oaths to that document’s stated restrictions on their governing power. Party affiliation played no role.

    Honest, objective economic findings could be more readily assessed since they tended to rely upon empirical statistical data. (The exception occurs when people of a particular social, ideological, or political mindset choose to emphasize or omit data in such a way as to deceptively advance a viewpoint.) Repeated outcomes have a way of weeding out the wheat of sound economic principles from the chaff of irrational methodologies. Thus, we ended up favoring the well-tested, empirical-based works of Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, and Dr. Thomas Sowell over the abstract, wishful-thinking theories of Karl Marx or even John Maynard Keynes.


Where We Stand Now

    I could cite countless other examples of how we arrived at the perspective from which we came to tell America’s story, but that would be far too time consuming. I can only say that we did not set out to produce this video series for the purpose of proselytizing or advancing a particular religious viewpoint; but by disclosing the most pertinent facts about this nation’s founding, we ended up with a narrative that naturally appealed to Christian viewers (especially the first 3 or 4 volumes of the series). That does not mean we glossed over historical events where people did awful things in the name of religion.

    The experience of extensive research into the writings of the nation’s founders left us with a profound respect for many of their ideals. A deeper sense of patriotism was stirred as we delved into myriad written accounts of heroism, self-sacrifice, and devotion to a cause by various individuals. Yes, we drew inspiration from these historical figures, but never turned a blind eye to their character flaws. (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Benjamin Franklin sired kids out of wedlock. There you go.)

    In our research, we acquired newfound respect for the Constitution. In this present age, I suppose that will leave us more attuned to conservative and libertarian viewpoints than those of present-day liberals. While our evidence-based disdain for communism tends to push us away from modern liberalism, an equal disdain for elitism and racism aligns us with classical liberals.

    Thus, I’ll repeat that the predominately pro-Christian, conservative-leaning, and patriotic tone of The American Testimony is simply the product of empirical research, not some preconceived ideological mindset.


The Reliability Question

    Our research has not ceased. Even after the initial VHS version of The American Testimony was released, we never assumed the series was 100 percent error-free. That’s because the archival sources themselves were written by humans with their own individual perspectives. Occasionally, we gain a new piece of information that alters our initial findings. We may also learn that a piece of historical data, from which we draw certain conclusions, will turn out to be an inaccurate account. In updating the series for DVD release, we had to make a few corrective revisions (nothing major). From time to time, we’ve also been known to tweak the text version on this website. All the same, we confidently proclaim that we made the most accurate video series of its kind.

    As an analogy, think about the water that comes out of your kitchen faucet. Is it 100% pure? No. But the pollutants it contains are usually so tiny and so few in number that the life-giving properties of the water, on the whole, are not diminished. The danger occurs when not enough pollutants are removed from the water supply. By the same token, we can view the wisdom gleaned from history as life-giving water, while looking upon historical inaccuracies and worldview distortions as the pollutants that threaten to poison the information. Because the historical record can be tainted by subjective interpretation, there is no way to assure that the story we tell is 100% pure. There will be a few particles of error here and there, and we’ll snatch them out whenever they’re detected. But the water of knowledge is so essential that a few miniscule impurities should never keep us from drinking.

    We therefore reject the cynical notion that all history is suspect because it is subject to personal interpretation. Whenever presented honestly, history serves as our treasured repository of lessons learned.

 

Home   I   DVD Store   I   Online History Books   I   Video Guides   I   Historical Documents Index   I   Customer Service   I   About Us