I’m a history major. I can still see myself as a history major three years hence. I love history. I love the fact that it tells all the stories of the past, that we owe everything today to what happened yesterday. (Another funny thing…because everything has already been said, anything I say about history will sound trite. But I still love it.) History really does repeat itself. So, today, I am going to, as Charlie so eloquently put it, step up on my “feminist soapbox” or “herstory” soapbox and talk about one of my favorite subjects.
As Pearl S. Buck said, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” That’s what I love about history. It repeats itself. There are comforting patterns. If a government starts taxing its citizens, and the citizens feel their rights are being taken away and they want more say in what laws are made, you can bet a revolution is right around the corner. It’s so interesting to study, to see how one thing led to the next. Even though the Enlightenment seems like it only happened once, it has in fact had several different incarnations, each building upon the previous manifestation. It’s just so true of human nature-each generation learns from the one previous and improves upon that example. While history may seem like it is stuck in the past, it is in fact always moving forward. For my generation, the question is “Where were you on September 11?” For my parents, “Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?” For my grandparents, “Where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed?” Each generation has its own “disaster” question, because obviously I was nowhere when Kennedy was shot. History not only has to be relevant for the past, but also for the present and the future. The next generation will have a completely different disaster question. It may be unfortunate, but it is inevitable.
All of my formal history teachers have been women. Except for one. But he barely taught so he’s not worth mentioning. He was truly awful. Although it is interesting to point out that I wrote more about women in his class than any other. I recycled the same essay about women in Ancient Rome three times. It wasn’t a particularly spectacular essay, but it was a good one. The fact that I found enough support is spectacular in itself. I probably made some stretches of the imagination. But beside this one example, I’ve learned history from women. And a lot of them put emphasis on the importance of women, especially in my all-girls high school. Women’s History Month just so happens to be March, my very favorite month, and we celebrated with gusto.
Obviously, because I was homeschooled, both of my parents taught me history. And I’ve been lucky enough to have visited a lot of history with them. I visited Jamestown with my dad before I visited it with William and Mary. I’ve been to Washington, D.C. on numerous occasions, as well as the Route 66 museum, the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn, Monticello, Independence Hall, and countless historic houses. I can’t quite say that I’ve witnessed an exceedingly important historic event, but that’s one of my life goals. I didn’t have the chance to watch the inauguration live (yes, I am upset) but I WILL see the inauguration of the first female president.
And here is where the “feminist soapbox” begins. One of my favorite quotations? “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels.” So said Faith Whittlesey. Another? “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Now, Charlie terms this as “feminist”. I term this as pride. I’m proud of my sex. As a kid, I didn’t get the irony of Molly Pitcher being hailed as a heroine for girls for giving water to Revolutionary War soldiers. According to those soldiers, she was just doing her job. Little did I know that Molly Pitcher, as legend tells us, actually went to war with her husband, a gunner, and when he collapsed, she took over his cannon. Now, that is a heroine. True, there were a lot of Molly Pitchers, but my children’s history book focused on this one. Betsy Ross? Probably true, yes, but a lot is guesswork. However, the book considered to be the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji, was written by Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese court lady in the 11th century. Just so you know.
My favorite period of history is the American Colonial period. I took a whole summer course on this period. It was incredible. Several of my essays actually dealt with the roles of women, simply because I found the evolution of these roles over one hundred years simply fascinating. They weren’t quite as confined to the home at the beginning of the 17th century, but in the middle of the 18th, the home was definitely the woman’s domain. But here’s the deal: The Founding Mothers made the Founding Father’s clothes, reminded them to eat when they weren’t writing important documents like the Articles of Confederation, and in the case of my favorite, Abigail Adams, ran the farm and made saltpeter while John was out campaigning for freedom. And she was quite a go-getter. In a letter to her husband, Abigail wrote “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Imagine what would have happened. The whole country would have starved, gone naked and would have died out if the women just up and left. Just a hypothetical, but think about it.
Recently, I saw the movie “The History Boys” for the first time. The history teacher, Mrs. Lintott, encourages the boys to “consider the ladies” of history when preparing for their exams. In an extremely powerful tirade, she gives her students her own meaning of history. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
Now, I agree with Mrs. Lintott on some points. It is rather depressing to learn about a whole bunch of men doing one thing after another. When you get to a woman, it’s exciting, because they don’t come up that often. As usual, all the great women are in the background, running the show. I personally think backstage is more exciting than actually being onstage. Then again, in theater, the techies always get recognized. This isn’t always so for the ladies. They should get to take a bow, of course, but they so often don’t. Ah, well. At least I know they’re in there somewhere, so I can study and find them and bring them to light. More and more of them are surfacing every day.
I will always love history. I will always love the stories. Because that’s what history is. History is a story. It’s the story of our past, present and future. And there’s nothing I like better than a good story.
Writing my story one step at a time,
P.S. All my journals from William and Mary are here: http://niahd.wm.edu/index.php?browse=user&id=hrzimmerman. May I suggest the last essay? It’s my favorite.
P.P.S. Oh yeah. New addition to Sunshine: Cricket’s Songs of the Week. Enjoy!
“History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity.” -Dexter Perkins