My sixth grade studies included a year of world history. We began in Egypt with pharaohs and pyramids, moved to Greek city-states, before traveling across the Adriatic Sea to Rome and eventually migrating throughout Europe. As mine was Catholic parochial school education, interspersed with historical events such as the Battle of Hastings or the signing of the Magna Carta, there was a generous amount of information on popes and the lives of the saints. While in geography class we knew there were countries around the globe, our history curriculum was Eurocentric – that is until 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue after which our study of world history broadened from one track to two and included a large dose of American Manifest Destiny.
I don’t share this story in condemnation of that hard working teacher. I will not judge Mrs. Menard’s teaching methods by a modern litmus test. She used the tools she had at hand, at a very different time than today. She was enthusiastic. She made learning about history fun (albeit a narrowly focused history). It is well documented that most of our curricula, not just that of my childhood and adolescence but continuing in today’s classrooms, regardless of the intended age group, still highlights European accomplishments over those of other cultures.
When Black History Month was first designated in the early 1970s, the library where I worked created a book display pulling together titles scattered throughout the collection. I wondered why a special month when these important contributions should simply be integrated into the normal flow of information. Now, I better understand the need to spotlight lives and achievements whether it is in March as part of Women’s History Month or during the 30 days of November for Native American Heritage Month. These months of celebration are not intended to diminish mainstream accomplishments but rather are a simple acknowledgement that the sheer volume of information and resources presented from a white, male perspective creates an almost impenetrable monolith whether it is history or literature, science or art.
Each of these designated months gives us permission to explore an author, a musician, a filmmaker, that would not be a normal “go-to” source. My study plan for November includes:
- Reading a book of poetry by Joy Harjo of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Poet Laureate; and
- Viewing the films featured as part of this year’s Native Cinema Showcase sponsored by the National Museum of the American Indian.
Join me in “Holding History” by organizing your own personal mini history course and learning more about the rich culture and history of Indigenous People.
* Kitchen, T. , Junior, and John Evans. A new map of the world: with all the new discoveries by Capt. Cook and other navigators: ornamented with the Solar System, the eclipses of the sun, moon & planets &c. London: I. Evans, 1799. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2003630537/>.