Problems With History: Manipulation and Interpretation

Problems with History: Manipulation and InterpretationYou can’t take History at Face Value

I have been blessed with an opportunity to speak to a group of people, about a subject very close to my heart – Women in History.  So, I thought I would share some of this with you.

I was raised, like most people, where we take for granted that historians were honest folks who just wrote down the events and people who shaped history just as they were.  We’re led to believe that if it’s written, it must be true. The older the text, the more accurate it should be.  Surely, people weren’t dishonest hundred or thousands of years ago.

Around 2003, I read Dan Brown’s “The Di Vinci Code”.  That book, and the dozens of subsequent books I read, changed my whole view on what our history is.  My mind was opened up to cultures that believed in Goddesses, and worshiped the Earth as a Mother.  I’ve read about cultures that were Egalitarian, and didn’t believe that women are second class citizens.  I’ve learned about women who were leaders, as well as warriors.

In all of this, I’ve come up with a couple of reasons why the history we have seems to be so much “His Story.”  First, history was written, and erased, by the Winners.  Second, we can only interpret evidence of the past, based on our current understanding of the present.

Manipulation – Winner Takes All 

During the Bronze Age (approximately 3700 BCE. – 300 BCE) humans started recording their history.  The Egyptians and Sumerians were the earliest writers, but eventually we see the growth of the written (carved) word across the world.

Keep in mind, that the Bronze Age was an age of war.  The discovery of Bronze meant that humans could mass produce weapons on a scale not seen before.  So, it stands to reason that the leaders fighting for power over the cities, trade centers, etc., would use writing as a means of propaganda.  Their “Great Deeds” could be recorded, and remembered, for eternity.  Think about how many statues were erected at this time…

If it can be written, it can be erased.  Such is the case with much of history as it pertains to women.  A classic example of this is Hatshepsut, female Pharaoh of Egypt. She took over the throne from her, too young, step son, Thutmose III.  After her death, when Thutmose III took his place as Pharaoh, he had any reference to Hatshepsut chiseled away.  We would not know about her, except for some hieroglyphics found elsewhere.  Even then, it took almost two centuries to find her.

Interpretation

We can only interpret the world based on what we have learned and our experiences.   So, if I’m an historian 150 years ago, I would have grown up “knowing” that men are warriors and travelers, and with rare exception, women didn’t do those things.

The thing is, women did do both of those things.  For example, the Amazons were amazing warriors and horsewomen.  Gudrid, a woman written about in the Icelandic sagas, actually sailed to the new world 500 years before Columbus.

Since women aren’t warriors or travelers, in both of these examples, these women were treated as myths.  In the case of the Amazons, modern technology in terms of being able to identify the sex of skeletons, has helped to shed light on these amazing women warriors.

In the case of Gudrid, modern women have searched for evidence of her existence.  They believed that a woman written about so prominently, and frequently, couldn’t be a mere myth.  They believe they found evidence of her at a settlement on the coast of Newfoundland, and on a windswept plains of Iceland.

Modern Women

The internet has provided us with a means to share and uncover a great deal of information.  One of the most exciting things to me is the remembering of the women, in more recent times, who helped shape the science and technology of today.  Beyond Madame Curie,  to the “Hidden Figures” of NASA, and WASP’s of WWII we have numerous, but forgotten, examples of successful women right in our own history.

It is a case of the more you look, the more you will find.  The actual passing of history has not been quite as male dominated, as we’ve been led to believe.  For my part, I will be using MamaCranberry.org to share the stories of the amazing women I’ve learned about over the years.  Stay tuned!

Who are some of your Favorite Female History Makers?
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5 thoughts on “Problems With History: Manipulation and Interpretation

  1. Hatshepsut actually was honored during and after her time. On a trip to Egypt, we saw the temple which was built in her honor by none other than Moses who was a famed engineer and military leader during his time and before his leadership of the Israelites out of Egypt . Though he was born long after Hepshepsut, the temple he designed is in the Valley of the Kings. Also, her life is honored in the Cairo museum which is larger than the Loueve in Paris with acres of relics still not on display. Other women in history have, in fact, been honored more than we give credit to. Pope Joan was another. We must remember to not rewrite history in discovering it ourselves which is done often in these modern times with so many sources of information on the www. I am happy that Mama Cranberry us encouraging women studies.

    • Thank you, Joan. I have read about her many times over the years…always the same story about her kingship being chiseled off the monuments.

  2. We have to learn from the past to provide a better solution for the future 🙂

  3. “We can only interpret the world based on what we have learned and our experiences.” I love this quote so much. Learning from the past is important for future and present, especially for us women. Really loved this piece.

    • Thank you very much for the kind words, Kate!

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