Some ask, "Why do we study women's history, or African American
history, or Hispanic history? Isn't it all just "history?"
Perhaps the best answer to those questions is that we cannot let
important parts of our heritage be lost. Many believe that
traditional approaches to history are based on a "Great Man"
perspective that overlooks the contributions of the diverse people.
Some believe that focusing on individuals at all distorts history --
the events of human existence are much bigger than any one
personality. Even great people were part of a larger culture and
set of events that transformed their lives.
Many grew up studying history from books that only presented
the accomplishments of leading white men. It was not until the
Carter G. Woodson advocated the importance of remembering
Americans. Inclusion of women and the creation of "Women's
Studies" programs did not happen until the 1960's and 1970's.
In many ways, what we are really talking about is creating more
accurate history. How can we learn from our past without a
fuller appreciation of significant events and the people that shaped
them? If it is true that "Behind every great man is a great
woman," then textbooks and scholarly studies have clearly left out
important details about our past. Women have also made huge
contributions in their own right. Significant events from
history have been shaped by a variety of perspectives and peoples.
If history is not accurately recorded, important details get lost.
No, we are not talking about "rewriting" or "revising" history; we
pointing out the importance of capturing detail and diverse views in
order to create meaningful history in the first place.
Without a closer look and broader perspectives, our accounts of the
past are incomplete and wrong. It is not possible to fully
understand anything without looking at the multi-facets that are
present. When important facts and figures are left our, history
gets "lost" and succeeding generations are deprived of their heritage.
When looking for history that has been excluded or neglected from
traditional accounts, historians are forced to look for clues in a wide
variety of sources. Diaries, letters, journals, brochures, and
personal accounts become more important. This, in turn, adds a
"personal" touch to the past. Many will find that inclusion of
more sources will make history more interesting and meaningful.
Anything that connects more people with our past has to move our
collective understanding of history forward.
For example, wars have tended to be fought by men. The
tragedy and destruction of war affects all people of any ethnicity and
gender. To more fully understand any conflict, the thoughts of
the solders, their families, and the nation, and each community must
be examined. Even when not in battle, women's perspectives are
important to understanding war and any other historical event.
Clearly, women have been a part of human culture for all time.
Looking specifically at women's history is important because it allows
us to capture details and facts about our past before they are lost to
the ages. Women of every race, class, and ethnic
background have made historic contributions to the growth and strength
of human culture. Women have contributed and continue to
play important economic, cultural, and social roles.
Because of expectations and norms from "traditional roles,"
American women uniquely provided the majority of the volunteer labor
force that built this nation. Their legacy is forever stamped in
charitable, philanthropic, and cultural institutions in our America.
The diversity of women's contribution has provided strength and hope
every major social change.
"Women's History" causes many to think of
leaders of women's rights of suffrage and equal opportunity. We
must not forget that women were dominant forces in the abolitionist
movement, the emancipation movement, the industrial labor movement,
the civil rights movement, and other movements, especially the peace
movement. The work and sacrifices of many creates the foundation
for a more equitable and just society for everyone.
To fail to acknowledge the roles of women and female leaders deprives
us all of a greater understanding of our past. It is easy to
document that women have consistently been overlooked and undervalued,
in the study of history, teaching, and literature.
Perhaps someday we will live in a society that values the
contribution of all leaders and participants of progress.
Diversity in our understanding of history is the key to providing a
more accurate and reflective look at our past. It is not
"revisionist history" to analyze and include people, places, and
events that were systematically left out.
The "revision" comes from the exclusion of others. The study
of specific aspects of history based on gender, ethnicity,
socioeconomic status, and multiculturalism is an important tool to
keeping historical accounts accurate, inclusive, engaging, and,
perhaps most important, meaningful to all.
By Bill Breitsprecher
©2006, Breitlinks. All