I don’t want to do a women’s library, plus I got reminded that I needed to start with a question, not something thought out I’d inevitably get stuck with further down the line.
I’m still interested in history and who gets to tell it: white men.
Conference organizer and senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution Niall Ferguson had the audacity to condemn those behind the race and gender-based attacks on the conference. He essentially asked the question of whether or not calling out his conference and speakers by publishing their names and pictures were progressive. He compared it to what anti-semites used to do to condemn the “over-representation” of Jewish people in academia. It’s an interesting take considering Jewish people are marginalised and white men … are not.
When faced with the lack of women, Ferguson defended that their exclusion was not deliberate. On the contrary, the women invited declined. However, it seems as though that it isn’t entirely true and that there was a deliberate omission. His acceptance speech for the 2016 Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contribution to Liberal Arts Education doesn’t help his case.
He argued that the changing content of history was the best explanation for its decline in the last several decades. Said decline concerns “diplomatic and international history; legal and constitutional history; and intellectual, social and economic history”. While on the other hand, there has been a “growth in women and gender history; cultural history; history of race and ethnicity; and environmental history”. He belittles the later subjects in comparison to the former. Surely they cannot be as important, as necessary.
In an interview, he mentioned that some of the new history is overly politicized, “so skewed by contemporary concerns”, that it is ahistorical and anachronistic. And it got me thinking what does he benefit from the new history or rather women and gender history, and history of race and ethnicity? Nothing?
I optimistically tried to reason with myself that everyone benefits from such content being added to curriculums and the profession but it isn’t entirely true. White men are used to being the centre of history, the lens through which it is viewed and the voice that tells. They have nothing to gain from that, nothing that lines with their skewed views of what equality is anyways.
It got me thinking about those studies made in conferences, meetings and classrooms. Men think everyone’s speaking time is fair and balanced despite women speaking far less than half. I believe it to be similar with minorities having courses and fields of history dedicated to them. I’ll focus on women’s studies as this is what I’m interested in for this project. Perhaps men, such as Ferguson, are so used to human beings being called men. Perhaps they are so used to men (the biological sex) being the default, and of women being attached to them by association, that they cannot conceive that women have and need a history that is different and distinct from theirs. History is taught through an androcentric lens. Deliberately keeping out any form of female achievement certainly did not help in the perception that women’s history does not exist. If it does it is the same as the men’s and men’s history is humanity’s history.
Links and references:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WXNF6Vy07A – Ferguson’s acceptance speech for the 2016 Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contribution to Liberal Arts Education