Restorative History


Restorative Historiography (along with the Restorative Histories it produces) is a new way of “doing” history that is introduced with this website. It’s a process I developed to build on the process of decolonization and go beyond “centralizing the margins.” In her book, Decolonizing Methodologies, Maori researcher and scholar of indigenous education Linda Tuhiwai Smith wrote:

The people and groups who “made” history were the people who developed the underpinnings of the state—the economists, scientists, bureaucrats and philosophers. That they were all men of a certain class and race was “natural” because they were regarded (naturally) as fully rational, self-actualizing human beings capable, therefore, of creating social changes, that is history.1

This was and continues to be the process of colonizing history: Only the history of the colonizers matters because only they matter as leaders, thinkers, architects of history, and the primary humans of the world. The process of decolonizing interrupts that concept of the supremacy of one over all others. Decolonizing is a process of restoring, legitimizing and rehumanizing those who were/are marginalized and disappeared by the colonizer.

Extraordinary work has been done since the 1960s in restoring histories and cultures that were marginalized and nearly eradicated by Euro colonizers and patriarchy. Scholars and activists around the world have brought these marginalized histories back to the center and created a body of knowledge that has enriched the entire world.

But the colonizers’ institutions and structures still maintain their supremacy and hegemony.a  As a result, too many of these re-centralized bodies of knowledge—black history, women’s history, “multicultural studies,” etc.—have become “ghettoized.” They are still not considered The History, but rather subsidiary histories to the Primary History of the colonizer. In schools, they are elective instead of required courses. In reality, they have been pushed back to the margins. And so, in developing Restorative History, I am attempting to confront and completely dismantle the frameworks that have made the colonizer’s history the Primary History.

The process, called Restorative Historiography, begins with bringing a marginalized history to the center, but does not end with making that history equal to all others in the center. Instead, Restorative History makes that history The History, the architect, the catalyst, the group that “made” history and made our nation what it is today.

Of course, this is pretty much the process used by the colonizer, isn’t it? In order to elevate and legitimize one group over all others entails a process of destroying the other groups. Except that Restorative History does not destroy other groups. In fact, it brings each of all the other marginalized histories to the center, and one by one, makes each the central, overriding architect of history.

What emerges from this process is a very complex and often contradictory collection of histories. What emerges is a history of our nation that is multitudinous, multidimensional, contradictory, riotous, democratic, and extraordinarily rich—just as the human experience is.

The colonized version rejects and eliminates the conflicting, contradictory histories; they’re too messy and complicated for the colonizer, and they generally challenge the hegemony of the colonizer. What’s more, learning to believe in a single, monolithic “story of all of us” makes it easier to colonize hearts and minds.

But learning to understand history as a unilateral, simplistic flow of life teaches us to understand and interpret the world in the same way. When we learn the complexities—and especially the contradictions—of our collective stories, we then understand that life is complex. In learning that as the norm, not the exception, we then gain the skills necessary to understand and integrate complex and conflicting realities. We become more accepting of other points of view, other stories and realities. We internalize tolerance and compassion as the norm, not the exception. In learning the fullness of history, we learn the fullness of life.

What I hope the Restorative History process will show is the profound and primary importance of all of us.

—M. Campbell Yahn


For examples of Restorative History narratives, see:
Indentured Servitude
“In the Quiet, Undisputed Dignity of My Womanhood”



The Notes to Restorative History:

a: Hegemony is similar to supremacy, only bigger and more all-encompassing in influence and control.