Writing a History for We, Not a History for He by Max Abbott

History is a bad word. For many, history is viewed as being the story of white men and their victories and losses over other white men. Those who hold this view are not necessarily wrong, but they have been failed by some professor or instructor somewhere along the line; likewise, it can be hard for those not in this historically privileged group to identify with and see themselves in historical writing. So often the history that is produced is written by, and representative of, these privileged groups because for so long white males were the only group with the social and economic capital to “make” history and then to write about it.  After all, history is, at its core, just a collection of stories and historians, at their core, are just storytellers. As storytellers, it is of the utmost importance that historians tell the entire story of society and society has never been comprised of simply privileged groups. Society is made up of diverse groups with diverse stories to be told and historians should take it upon themselves to write about it.

Diversity in historical research and writing has been a steadily growing presence since the 1960s. As social movements took hold and oppressed groups clawed their way out from the holes in which society had placed them, they began to write their stories. As they began to write and tell these stories, history was becoming something other than simply the story of powerful white men. Instead, it was being transformed into the story of entire societies, the groups that comprised them, and how they lived and interacted in various times and around various events. The importance of this movement toward a more inclusive telling of the past is that history was beginning to offer a true reflection of the diverse makeup of society, both past and present.

It seems to me that this is a problem of identification. It has always been easy for powerful groups to identify with history. History was created by these powerful groups to demonstrate their power and preserve their stories for future generations. This same principle, however, applies to the importance of writing the histories of less powerful and less privileged groups. Every group has a history. The social movements of the mid-nineteenth century did not come from nowhere. Oppressed groups did not suddenly appear during these social movements, but had spent years being oppressed by society. Generations full of stories waiting to be written down. When these stories are written and find their way into general society, it will show readers that there are historical actors and historical perspectives that they can identify with. It has always been easy for me, a white male, to read history and find myself in the pages. It should be that easy for everyone. Historical writing should be aimed at presenting readers with the full story of societies including the stories of those groups such as African-Americans, the working class, women, the LGTBQ community, and anyone whose stories were for so long deemed unworthy of being told.