A New Perspective on American History: A Look into David Hanna's New Book

History teacher David Hanna publishes his new book “History Nation: A Citizen’s Guide to the History of the United States.”

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Stuyvesant History teacher David Hanna published his new book, History Nation: A Citizen’s Guide to the History of the United States, in an effort to offer people of all ages and backgrounds a glimpse into his unique perspective on the American legacy. Hanna has written three other historical books before, all deep-dive research-based works on specific topics, such as the War of 1812 and the American perspective on World War I. Hanna acknowledges that although the topics he covers in his book, from Andrew Jackson to the Jazz awakening of the 1920s, don’t follow his previous pattern of original research, his fresh viewpoint on the subjects as a teacher and individual is enough to make the work stand out in a world of historical political literature. 

Hanna discusses how this book also stands out from his previous works. “My other three books are all sort of classic, research-based books on a specific topic, and in each case, topics that hadn't been quite researched in the way that I've been researching them,” Hanna said.  “My first book I wrote in 2007-2011 took 4 years. My next book, I wrote in 2012-2016, took another 4 years. And then my last book was from 2017-2022, about 5 years. This took me roughly about 6 months.”

He explained that his new book is very different from his previous works because it draws from his overall teaching career and experience, and therefore isn’t quite a research-specific book. “This is a distillation of what I've been doing for almost 30 years. It's all right here,” Hanna said. 

Hanna believes that his perspective on American history is valuable since teachers’ voices are underrepresented in the historical literature genre. “And so the idea was, what could I do to bring a teacher's perspective, rather than someone who is maybe a college professor or maybe someone who is in politics. Those are the ones who normally write these books, and so you don't really get a teacher's perspective,” Hanna said. 

Students reading the book felt that much of the book was infused with Hanna's ideas on history and larger lessons learned in American history. Many agreed that the book was very accessible and informative. "He wanted it to be a citizen's guide and for us to connect with our history and what it means to be involved in politics, involved in civics today, and as somebody who cares about those things [...] it did a good job,” junior Helen Mancini said.

Hanna also mentions how this writing experience was different for him due to his newfound independence in the creative process. “This has been something where I'm more hands on, which I like, because it allows me to make a decision about the [...] font and the spacing. If I had left this up to the publisher, I would basically have to do what they told me to do. And so that was nice,”  Hanna said.

 Due to his ability to take on more creative liberty, Hanna was able to make the spacing in his book slightly larger than usual, a mechanism that allows for both senior citizens to be able to navigate it without much trouble and for young people to digest it efficiently without losing focus. In addition, he also designed his book cover with the texture of a chalkboard in mind, a tribute to his identity as a teacher and how this unique identity prevails over his knowledge and interaction with American history.

Hanna also expressed a sense of urgency that came with the release of the book due to the current polarization in American politics. He has observed how books that have been coming out in the last half dozen years mostly represent the extremes of the political spectrum. Through his book Hanna sought to find a different approach—a way to prioritize the many similarities that bind Americans together, rather than tear them apart. “So you have books that are coming from the far left position or the far right position. And this is basically trying to stake out the middle ground, the center, the political center,”  Hanna said. 

In his new book, Hanna skillfully navigates the topics of American history, avoiding oversimplification of American history into polarizing narratives and instead offers a broader perspective on historical events. “And in many ways, it's kind of what I grew up with and learned as a history student, [...] in public school, and later in college, in graduate school, and it's trying to look at things from that perspective, and you know it's not that I don't address a lot of, for example, contemporary or polarizing [topics],” Hanna said. “I don't let it define the book; I want it to focus on the history and make connections when they are relevant, and also think again, [do so] concisely.”

When addressing certain controversial topics that divide people, instead of asking the question of who is right or wrong, Hanna approaches these issues by questioning the nature of the disagreement. By doing this, he is able to open the discussion and make his book an experience for all Americans, despite their personal biases. 

Hanna also made sure to curate the reading process in such a way that readers find the book enjoyable and digestible. He occasionally, as he weaves one topic through another at a fast pace, stops and addresses the reader directly, essentially “breaking the fourth wall.” He does this so he can define certain words or phrases, such as “electoral college”,  so that the reader truly has an understanding of the text, following a format akin to his teaching. “I do that because I think people want that. Because sometimes people don't want to seem like they don't know [a word], so they don't ask, and everybody just sort of goes on, and doesn't necessarily grasp all of these things,” Hanna said. “I think that it's good to break the fourth wall every once in a while and just say it, because that's what teachers do all the time, we are constantly doing that. Because there is no wall, we are interfacing all the time…You know, it's like a teaching tool, for like just regular, everyday people.”

Hanna also integrates popular culture such as art, music, and society into his book, on the basis that although war, racial tensions, and politics are important, there is so much more that has been relevant to citizens throughout American history. 

Hanna expresses gratitude to current senior Nelli Rojas-Cessa for her contribution to the revision process of the book, as she offered an unique perspective, bringing in a more young and diverse set of eyes to the table. He mentions her in the acknowledgements section of his book, thanking her for understanding exactly what Hanna wanted to do with the book and reminding him when he strayed. 

Through Hanna’s journey of writing his new book, he offers readers an unique perspective that transcends traditional historical narratives. By drawing from his extensive teaching experience, Hanna presents a refreshing take on American history, one that emphasizes connection over division. Through his attention to detail, accessible writing style, and thoughtful integration of diverse perspectives, Hanna invites readers of all backgrounds to take in a different understanding of American history through his 342 pages of engagement. Ultimately, though, Hanna wrote this book with a profound dedication to his students, prefacing his work with a heartfelt acknowledgement: “You’ve taught me as much as I’ve taught you.”