As a history major, I have come to understand all that is involved in this field. I believe that in many cases, we need to look at history more holistically.
I’ve come to this conclusion based on some experiences I’ve had in my various classes. In one class, I had an extremely positive experience looking at the past. It wasn’t necessarily a history class, but we looked at a combination of historical texts, art, literature, and music, looking not only at the typically studied political and social events of the day, but also the lives of individuals including women and people of color across various social classes. I felt like it was one of the most beneficial ways to study the time period. It gave me a holistic understanding, allowing me to look at the time period with greater understanding than if I had studied the traditional stories of history.
I was made aware of the problems with looking at just one thread of history, the dominant narrative. History, so often written by the victors, frequently will ignore the stories of so many people in that time. Gaining a knowledge of what life could be like for individuals who had experiences that were different from the narrative of Western white men enriched my understanding for time periods from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. It cultivated an inspiration to learn more about these lesser-heard stories. It gave me an appreciation for those who teach history with a holistic approach.
What do I mean by this? Simply that we cannot ignore the lives of those who were not in power when we study history. The dangers of doing so mean that we do not give merit to the lives of the disenfranchised, of the non-winners. And there’s so much more to learn with understanding those stories.
When I talked to my professor about including more women in his class, it was the knowledge of the women who defied the standards of their day that gave me the courage. It was thinking of those specific women from the past that gave me the courage to try to change the present and impact the future.
Many of us recognize the problems that result in only perpetuating the dominate narrative, yet we continue to discuss “other” stories by separating them into different courses.
That is not to say that specific courses on those issues are not necessary; in fact, they are more necessary in order to gain a niche understanding of those narratives.
What does happen in general history courses, however, is that a specific lecture will be devoted to considering the situation of a specific group of people, and that only furthers the distinctions of these people from the dominant narrative.
What is necessary is to reshape how we teach basic history courses by integrating those stories into the curriculum, in weaving those stories together. Because it shows that we all have something to contribute to history, that there are stories of hope and resiliency in something other than the dominant narrative, and that each life makes an impact in history, in ways we cannot fathom if we pay attention only to the dominant narrative.