The basic history of the United States of America should be a familiar story to any college student, but writer and UC Davis professor emeritus Jack D. Forbes wants to rethink the way textbooks cover American history.
In his latest book The American Discovery of Europe, Forbes inspects a different role of Native Americans in U.S. history. He explores the journey of America’s natives to Europe long before Christopher Columbus came to North America. With this new investigation, Forbes hopes to change the way America as a land and as a nation is considered.
“That has to be changed to the point where when people begin to think of the fact that we live in North America – that North America is our homeland, rather than Europe,“ Forbes said.
“Basically, the way U.S. history is taught, … it’s very Eurocentric. It really celebrates the adventures of white Europeans, particularly the British in North America. It’s really a celebration of Anglo-American adventures.“
The American Discovery of Europe is the product of years of extensive research that started in the ’80s when Forbes was working on another book project in England. Though he admitted that a change in the way American history is taught would be a long process, Forbes has already made notable strides in terms of the Native American community and its place in the educational system.
In the early ‘60s, he and his colleagues pushed forth proposals that started the Native American studies program at UC Davis, and Forbes became the department chair in 1969. The program was born out of UC Berkeley’s Third World Strike, a student movement that worked toward developing an ethnic studies program. The year 1971 marked the establishment of D-Q University, the only tribal university in California.
“What I thought was really interesting about Native American studies was that people oftentimes don’t give it the kind of respect that it deserves because it’s a smaller major in comparison to the other minority majors,“ said senior English and American studies double major Hailey Yeager. “To deny Native American studies and to not include that as part of the dialogue between different cultures is to miss a big chunk [of history].“
In addition to numerous books about Native Americans and issues of the community, Forbes has published several poetry books that also address the Native American community, including Naming Our Land, Reclaiming Our Land and El-Lay Riots = Memorias de Ya-Town and Home Boy Poems. This past month, Forbes read at Poetry Night at Bistro 33 from his most recent poetry manuscript California Songs.
“I like to use poetry to discuss ideas as well as feelings,” Forbes said. “I wrote from the very beginning different kinds of poems – some poems were romantic, some poems were about adventure and some poems were philosophical.“
Andy Jones, a lecturer within the University Writing Program, described Forbes‘ poetry as “historical and trans-historical.” Jones, along with UWP lecturer Brad Henderson, hosts Poetry Night at Bistro 33.
“[Forbes‘ work] talks about the human condition,” Jones said. “But it also touches upon issues of justice, geography, a sense of what makes up a people, what makes up a society – the responsibility we all have to one another and to the earth. These are important, enduring themes.“
Although Forbes‘ poetry is undoubtedly influenced by his background (he is part Powhatan-Renápe and Delaware-Lenápe), Yeager said that it shouldn’t be cast off as esoteric and specific only to the Native American community.
“I think the experience of any one culture can be universal – I don’t think that there is any one culture that’s so removed from all the others that you couldn’t identify yourself or appreciate it,” Yeager said. “It’s a really interesting perspective because it’s close to his heart, and it really brings a lot of depth into his poetry.“
RACHEL FILIPINAS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.