College Media Network - Search the largest news resource for college students by college students

History is Herstory, Too

By Jessica Zellers


Published: Monday, March 3, 2003

Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010

I write in response to last week’s article about the study of history. Like the author of that piece, Jason Crawford, I am a history major, but I thoroughly disagree with his conclusion that “the History Department at UNCG is rotten.” I agree with Mr. Crawford that professors in our department generally adhere to new historicism, rather than traditional history, but for that I applaud them.

Historians did traditionally try to study history objectively. There are, of course, facts to be studied: we factually know that America has 50 states and that every American president has been a white male. But how do we understand these facts? How do they reflect the social, political, religious, and cultural environs of the 21st century? Of the 20th century? Does my experience as an American female cause me to interpret the facts differently than would a Brazilian man? Would an American female in the 1800s interpret a historical fact different than I would today? Almost certainly, but that does not mean that her interpretation is wrong or that mine is right. We understand facts based on our own experience. Even historians who try to interpret facts objectively will necessarily present some facts and not others; there is no objective way to present the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Fortunately, the current trend in historical scholarship, new historicism, is not simply the backup plan for when objective history fails. Objective history may be impossible, but new historicism is strong in its own right. It is certainly not the “perverse academic trends based on untested scholarship,” as Mr. Crawford represented it; it is a widely accepted movement founded on the works of scholars such as Michel Foucault. The beauty of new historicism is that it tries to incorporate more than just big events and “preeminent individuals.” Not everyone who makes history has the wealth, power, or luck to become a preeminent individual. There were millions of Jews like Elie Wiesel who never wrote a book–who never had the chance to write a book–whose role in the Holocaust deserves to be studied. There were millions of American housewives in the 20th century who quietly instigated change in the collective domestic sphere whose names are unknown but who made our country a different place.

It is because we do not know their names that courses for quiet housewives, or silenced Jews, or any unprivileged group, are needed. Every elementary student in America knows about the presidents, and we DO study them every semester here at UNCG: History 211 and 212 are required courses for history majors. But without courses to specifically address the history of American women (and believe me, parts I and II do not even begin to cover their contributions) their stories, though important, might never be heard.

I appreciate those professors who encourage students to consider race, class, and gender. In my experience, no history professor at UNCG has willfully interjected her or his personal views into a lecture. Instead, I have learned about the many different ways of interpreting history from a professional and decidedly un-rotten history department.

Jessica Zellers, a history major at UNCG, is a former editor of The Carolinian’s Opinions section.

Recommended: Articles that may interest you

Be the first to comment on this article! Log in to Comment

You must be logged in to comment on an article. Not already a member? Register now

Log In