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Sunday, 14 February 2016

History, 'a story of men, by men'

The other day I was watching a wonderful documentary on the BBC called the Ascent Of Woman presented by Dr Amanda Foreman. It was all about how history was written by men for men and there was a significant omission, namely the virtual non-existence of women from the narrative.

I studied History at the Bachelor's level and never really thought about this particular problem. I loved the subject and wanted to become an archaeologist, for me my love for history was absolute and I never really gave much thought to the narrative. In my defence, I was nineteen when I started studying the subject and was obsessed with becoming a serious scholar. On what exactly? You may ask, however the teenage me would have breezily answered that I was in search of a worthy area as yet unexplored. 

My ambitions however, changed by the time I started my third year. By then I was as direction less as can be imagined and had decided that I did not want to continue studying History. It would always be my first love, I declared loudly to my equally confused friends, but I had lost interest in reading about the constant wars and mistakes made by past generations. By then I had noticed, to my particular distaste, that there was a noticeable absence of women, from the narrative. 

The reason behind this particular epiphany was my introduction to feminism in college. I went to an all women institution and had the good fortune of being taught by some remarkable women who made us question the very fabric of our existence and beliefs. Delhi University, cannot by any stretch, be labelled as 'a bastion of liberal thought'; however, within it's ranks are some pockets of exclusively women's colleges, that promote dissent and encourage alternate streams of thought.

One of the topics I chose during my three years as a student of history, was called  'The Individual and Society'. It was an interdisciplinary subject where history and literature were taught in confluence. This choice changed my life. We were taught by one of my favourite teachers, a woman, who made us question the society we lived in and made us see history through the prisms of caste/class, race, religion and most importantly gender, which she insisted should for us as women, always accompany the former three. 

The concept of 'Home and the World',  the dual lives that women lead and the influence we as a gender, exert on time and contemporary events is significant. In the documentary Amanda Foreman says to the male audience, "Whilst you were writing history, we were living it" . I think that is one of the truest statements, that I've heard in a long time. We as gender, have contributed to time and the very essence of the existence of the human race. We give birth, nurture and sustain; we provide the first education at home and are the spokes in the wheel that is the world. So then, whilst men sat on thrones, held important positions, explored new territories and fought in important wars; women stayed back and worked in the fields, and provided the day to day services within the walls of the home and the world outside the threshold, that sustained the so called 'mundane' day to day lives of nations. So then, how could we have as a gender found the time to write history?