I got stuck with my research, either because I didn’t have the right keywords, because songs have the same name as what I entered (Hamilton), or because nobody questions who tells history (I doubt it’s the latter but maybe there could be a reason I’m not finding papers?). Anyway, it wasn’t working but wait for a second! What if I search for the opposite of what I’m trying to prove? Behold the Great man theory – what a joke.
History is written by the winners. Whilst it may be true, it isn’t always the case. A more accurate quote would be “History is written by those who know how to write”. And when you look at who was able to get an education, well. It doesn’t change much as to who writes history.
According to the great man theory, “history can be largely explained by the impact of great men, or heroes; highly influential and unique individuals who, due to their natural attributes, such as superior intellect, and heroic courage, extraordinary leadership abilities or divine inspiration, have a decisive historical effect”.
I’m shamelessly quoting Wikipedia because the definition is glorious. Anyways, the theory comes from Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish philosopher and essayist, in whose book On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History states:
“Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these.”
I wish I had half the confidence.
This theory is based on two things. Firstly, that men are born great. They instinctively possess the traits necessary to lead and rise. Secondly, there has to be a desire or a need so great that they rise to the task and the traits develop, allowing them to lead.
What I take from it is that men are inherently suited for leadership and greatness, not all of them, but enough to shape all of mankind’s history. The problem with that is that it relies heavily on birth and attributes of the sex rather than nurtured qualities. It cultivates two things. Those in power deserve to be in power and shouldn’t be questioned. Women are automatically out of the equation.
That’s not entirely true since leaders are bred. Powerful men marry the daughters of other powerful men. Not powerful women, no, no, no, powerful men.
The concept is based on Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Powerful men are born into the right families. There’s no surprise as to what these families are: white, wealthy, educated, and privileged.
What really irked me, and what most articles I read noted, was that all of the qualities of a leader are praised for the man, but disapproved of for the woman.
Cue a series of TED talks about women in leadership positions, namely Facebook, but I will spare you because most of what I said gets repeated every single time. It might be important to note that the Great Man Theory dates back to the 19th century, and, while it has evolved (Modern Great Man Theory), it seems to still be a thing.
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