History? Make it “Her”story

By Rebecca Stamp, Sports Editor, doesn’t believe Moses existed

Our society was built by the genius of men. This is what’s taught in schools, and this is what many of us have been led to believe. The history department’s “March Madness” bracket, posted across from the library, determines which figure had the largest impact on history. In this bracket of 64 people, three are women.

According to history teacher Michael Berzonsky, the competitors were chosen based on “conferences,” such as historical time periods, scientists, and women. The attempt at inclusivity almost implies the ready acceptance that the only prominent historical figures are men. Why, then, with a science conference, was Marie Curie not represented? After all, she discovered two atomic elements and is the only person in history to win two Nobel Peace Prizes in two different sciences. The choice, said Mr. Berzonsky, came down to Marie Curie vs. Queen Elizabeth I. But why pit these women against each other at all?  

Women have made some of the most important advancements in history but are still overlooked. Important activists such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, advocates of both African American and women's rights were excluded, as were literary and artistic influencers such as author Jane Austen and painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Genghis Khan, the leader of the largest land empire in history, was listed, but Empress Wu, the fierce empress of China during the powerful Tang Empire, was not.

When asked about Empress Wu, and other powerful female leaders such as Hatshepsut, Mr. Berzonsky said that the only major impact of their existence was their legacy as first female rulers. What does it mean if our history teachers aren’t acknowledging the extreme global and social expansion of China under Empress Wu’s rule, or the impact of opening the Chinese Army to men of diverse backgrounds? It’s hardly surprising that my friends believe men have made the largest impact if they’re unaware of the expansion of Egypt’s trade routes under the leadership of Hatshepsut.

Some of the men themselves even seem forced. According to a Washington Post article, there is “next to no evidence in the archaeological and historical record,” of the existence of Moses, yet he is represented. John F. Kennedy is a competitor, even though he was assassinated before he was able to see his potentially impactful programs implemented. Even the women who are in the bracket — Elizabeth I, Cleopatra, and Joan of Arc — are not the most historically significant.

The root of the problem lies in the history curriculum, where women are almost entirely excluded. This leads students to believe that history has been shaped only by male influence, but this is untrue. When we learn about World War I and II, the books don’t mention the almost entirely female codebreakers who secured our victory, such as Dot Braden, Elizebeth Smith, and Agnes Meyer. When we study the Manhattan Project, we aren’t taught of the women who made it possible. According to the Global Education Monitoring Report, women are misrepresented and underrepresented in textbooks. It’s time for women to be recognized the same way that men are, one bracket at a time.