Question for UK Dopers: What famous Americans did you learn about in your history classes?

The 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination made me think of this.

I’m guessing history classes in British schools are rather Anglocentric. That being said, I was wondering how much American history makes into a typical British course on World or Western History. In particular, what Americans are discussed? Would your average British student be expected to know something about people like (for example) Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King?

It’s over 40 years since I left school. :eek:

From vague memory, we covered:

  • the Romans invading us
  • the Normans invading us (1066)
  • Magna Carta (1215)
  • the Tudors (especially Henry VIII and Elizabeth I)
  • Nelson and Wellington fighting Bonaparte
  • the Empire under Victoria
  • World War 1
  • World War 2

I don’t remember being taught anything about the American Revolution, nor any US Presidents. (Britain has lost or given away a lot of Empire!)
We were taught about Isaac Newton, not Edison.
I was alive when both JFK and Martin Luther King were assassinated, so it wouldn’t have been taught as History.

I expect the courses are more rounded now, but remember we have 2000 years of English / British history to cover and you American chaps only came in near the end of that. :wink:

It is far too long since I was in school for me to be able to remember what I learned there and what I learned somewhere else. However, I rather suspect we (in British primary and high schools) were taught very little about American history. Maybe we were told that America had eventually joined in the two world wars on our side, but I doubt we heard much about the presidents or other politicians involved in the decision to do so.

Remember, America scarcely has more than 300 years of actual history.* We in Britain have a couple of millennia of our own history to cover, and much of Europe and Asia has even more (and much of that is of more relevance to Britain than anything that ever happened in America).

Americans would also do well to remember that it is less than 100 years since their country was really of very little importance to most of the rest of the world. I wonder how much American high school students are taught about the history of Brazil, say, or, for maybe a more direct analogy (shared language, etc.), Australia or New Zealand.


*When I was teaching at a US university a few years ago, I fell into conversation with someone who was teaching an “Introduction to American History” course. This was an American “professor” teaching American history (ostensibly) to American students at an American university. He told me the next lecture of his course was going to be on the wives of Henry VIII. I guess he had to fill the time somehow.

Throw in the Industrial Revolution and my list wouls pretty much be the same as glee’s post above.

It also depends upon what age you left school.

Mine included the Great Depression - but you could argue that was an extended look into the causes of WW2 and the failure of the Weimar Republic.

We also looked at the assassination of JFK and the race to the moon -the landings were going on whilst we were doing actually studying - this came under the heading of ‘History of the future’
There was scope to include all sorts of other bits and pieces as long as they were connected in some way, so we did the development of the Chartists, the unions, and the rise of universal suffrage. This somehow came under the remit of the Industrial Revolution.

The loss of the colonies was covered as part of the British Empire but really it was not seen as all that significant to 19th century Britain compared to the long running wars with France & Spain - the rest of the American stuff we got from movies and tv - so you can imagine how accurate that was.

Same here. JFK and MLK would have been far too recent to be taught in my cohorts History classes, although MLK featured in a weird Scottish class called Modern Studies (it encompassed stuff that was basically news, politics, civics).

For basic level history classes, I’m not sure Lincoln would feature very highly, not being a significant figure in British history. Same with Edison, with Britain having a fair few inventors and scientists of her own so he’s not particularly notable in our context.

Jefferson and Washington are a different matter though. FDR would be one of the central figures in any WWII study.

To bring it into perspective, we covered the Seven Years War, and the Loss of the 13 Colonies was an unimportant footnote to what was going on elsewhere; of course it is of immense importance to Americans, but a mere footnote in World history at the time! France was the adversary.

And the US was essentially a forgotten country to the rest of the world outside the Americas until about 1870.

The only named American I can think of from my history lessons is Woodrow Wilson, from when we covered World War One.
iirc, the only later topic we studied was the League of Nations but the US was notable by its absence there!

American independence got mentioned as one of the causes of the French revolution, but that was about it. At the time I found history profoundly uninteresting and dropped it as a subject when I was 14. Since I now love reading it, I guess my teachers were shit.

I was taught about the Cuban Missile Crisis at University and when I discussed it with an American a few years later my understanding of the event was totally different from what he was taught at school.

Pray do elaborate.

I was educated in Ireland in the 1970s. The history syllabus was divided into a course in Irish history, and a course in European history.

Having said that, I recall that the first chapter in the textbook we used for modern European history dealt with the American revolution - regarded as an exemplar of enlightenment political thinking, and as an important precursor to the French revolution (the one that really mattered!). After that, the US was mentioned only where relevant to developments in Irish or European history - the Fenians, the Great War, the Second Word War. History stopped in 1945.

As I recall, (1970s) we got about as far as the French Revolution, having trundled all the way from the Babylonians, and then jumped all the way to 20th c. history - which was what the ‘O’ Level examination was going to be about (and an inadequate preparation it turned out to be too). There were long accounts of the American Revolution in the textbook, but we never looked at them. As was noted above, the French Revolution was the one which really mattered.

In my school days, in the 40s and 50s, we spent a great deal of history time on the industrial revolution. Although I am pretty sure we covered Magellan and Columbus, with a side sweep into Cortez and the Aztecs.

We surely covered the Mayflower, although I remember them as refugees from persecution, rather than refugees from too much tolerance. I read a lot of fiction so I suspect it was from there that I learned about the war of independence, although I was familiar with the Boston tea party and some of the reasons for it.

Twentieth century history was largely confined to Europe and the remnants of the British Empire.

Kids at school in the UK today learn very little history of any kind, let alone about the USA. Most of them might recognise the name of, say, Winston Churchill, but they are more likely to think he was a film star than a great statesman. It would be interesting to do a poll to see how many of them could name our current Prime Minister and your President.

Aside from a brief mention regarding major players in WW1 and sequel, I don’t recall any Americans or US history featuring in history class. I remember an American guy online attempting to taunt me about the Boston Tea Party, (age about 18 in 2001 for context), and I had to look up what that was.

We poked Egyptian and Greek history with a stick a bit at primary school, though mostly the mythology; other than that, it was pretty well entirely English until the World Wars. We barely considered Scottish, Welsh or Irish history even.

The only topics I can remember going into any depth on were: 1066, the Tudors, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, then the end of the Victorian era going into the 1900s. I dropped history class at this point, but the next two years were reputedly entirely World War focussed.

From reading that, I can tell that weirdly the USA gets significantly more coverage in French history classes than in British ones (also, you can’t drop history as a subject, over here, so I guess there’s generally more emphasis on it).

I was at school and studying history in Northern Ireland in the late 90s/early 00s.

We did a lot of American history at school, definitely more than any other country except for Britain and Ireland. I did history at GCSE (at 16), and there was a lot on American involvement in World War II and the aftermath, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

At 18, we studied the American constitution and the Supreme Court, so we would have covered a lot of stuff on the Founding Fathers, through to Marbury v. Madison, then skipped on to the Taft and Burger courts and through to the present day.

Put together, I would say that at school we would have studied American history pretty extensively from the colonial era through to the Madison presidency, and then from Teddy Roosevelt to the present. No Lincoln.

I did my GSCE’s in the late 80s/early 90s, although I took Geography, not History. Still, I remember covering JFK in school, although purely from a study of his assassination, rather than anything her did previous to that. Nothing on the American revolution, or any other presidents.

We also did a bit of colonial Americas stuff, but that was mostly South America, with aztecs and incas and Cortez on his peak in Darien.

I was educated in Ireland in the 1970s. My experience was very similar to yours.

I remember that the first time I ever heard of the War of 1812 was after I left school. Not just that I hadn’t studied it in history class; I had literally never heard of it.

However, we did study WWI and WWII, and Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman were mentioned in this context.

Funnily enough, our history teacher was an American from Chicago. I wonder if it pained him that his students remained so ignorant of American history?

This is rather striking to an American, all Americans should read this sentence so that we can put today’s “Tea Party” into perspective.