Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Quote to Ponder

From Persuasion by Jane Austen:
“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
I was a history major in college and I cannot tell you how true this is. I’m also reading Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen and the evidence is obvious. It seems the only really important people in history, according to most textbooks, are white men. Throw in a few comments about Sacajawea (of course not her whole story because we wouldn’t want to get carried away) or Helen Keller (but leave out that whole Socialism thing, gosh would that put a bad spin on things!) and you’re good to go!

And of course it’s not just women that get left out of the conversation. Other races and ethnicities weren’t allowed to tell their own story much either and are also left out of many history books today, unless it’s in that little sidebar pop-type window Ah what fun those were. They gave you an entire biography of someone in just a few short sentences (and a picture of course, we’re all very visual people). Did you know Crispus Attucks was the first casualty of the American Revolution? The end.

Thankfully by the time I got to college (and also a bit before thanks to some pretty awesome history teachers in high school) those textbooks were a thing of the past and primary source material became much more important, as did essays written by real researchers that seemed to care to try to get as much of the story as they could. Yet still, as people say, the conquerors are the ones that write the history books, not the conquered. So when it comes to actually finding a lot of primary source material from, oh let’s say African American slaves in the 1800s, it’s trickier than one would expect since many slave owners didn’t want their slaves to be able to read or write. They kept these specific tools out of their hands so they couldn’t tell their story.

So, that was my quote to ponder for the day. Trust me, I could ramble on and on about this topic. How women not too long ago were not supposed to go to college. Higher education was for men. But they were expected to learn all the ways to manage a proper household and paint pretty pictures or play piano. That was how women became accomplished. Not by writing their own histories.

Darnit…I started rambling…


Stephanie M. Hasty said...

I love this! :)

Anonymous said...

AN interesting post. I had a discussion with my daughters a month or so ago about how history books are typically told from the perspective of the older white man. Especially in Texas.

Recently, I found out that my great great grandmother was raped and killed by the Texas Rangers. She was a young hispanic mother, and of course, the Texas Rangers saw all hispanics as illegals and dealt with them in whatever way served their whims. She died around 1905.

The Texas Rangers have become a state symbol for courage and strength. The rest of us (minorities) call them the Texas Devils.

It's a struggle to keep up with what my kids are learning in school and then telling them "the other side of the story."

llevinso said...

What a horrific family history Jenny. That's the thing about history, it's brutal on both sides. For some reason people that write the text books want to paint people (like the founders of our country for example) as good and the others as bad. But the truth is that we're all humans and no one is completely good. We have such an interesting and nuanced history and it would make it so much richer if everyone could tell their story.