Ancient history school: what's new with the old?

What can Peanuts teach us about ancient history?

peanuts comic.gif

This Peanuts comic is not funny.

For many years now, Schultz has been making us laugh as we follow the journey of Charlie and the Peanuts crew. But I never really "got' Charlie Brown. I thought he needed a kick in the pants- a bit of a hurry-on. Lucy, on the other hand, was always the champion... a bit like Susie Derkins in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Lucy always cut straight to the heart of the matter. She asked the tough questions. That brings me to the comic above and why it is not funny.

As an ancient history teacher, I am often asked about the apparent lack of female identities in ancient history. I, of course, am always shocked: "There are plenty!" I proclaim. "Well, where are they?", is the response. And herein lies the problem. History (usually written by men) did not think the woman's voice to be so important that it should be written down. So on this International Women's day in 2018, I pose the question: do we, as teachers, make the effort to shine a light on women in our history classroom?

A casual look through various Ancient History syllabi reveals the presence of: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Rameses and even Genghis Khan. But how many times are we seeing: Hatshepsut, Aspasia, Zenobia (did you just have to google her)? Perhaps we see Cleopatra under the unit heading of: Personalities of the Ancient World. Personality indeed! We are all personalities and Cleopatra was a lot more than a cute personality! 

Mary Beard raises interesting points in her lecture (see book review) about how early writers made it clear whose voice was to be heard - and it was not a woman's. While this may be reflective of the socio-cultural world of the early writers (of most cultures and civilizations), we now find ourselves in the 21st C where students (not just female) are hungry for examples of women who have blazed trails, won wars and worn crowns. How do we, as educators, address this? We start by avoiding unit headings like: Personalities of the Ancient World.

Hatsheput, Zenobia, Cleopatra, Agrippina: significant forces in their own right and there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate their effectiveness as leaders. Hatshepsut belongs in a unit titled: Power, People and Authority - as do the other strong women.  When we don't include women in such units, we are suggesting that they are not worthy of the same consideration as their male contemporaries. We are suggesting that power and authority belongs to only male leaders and women are simply personalities of their time. Thus, in the 21stC, we continue the ancient tradition of silencing women as leaders. Well, this stops here!

If we are serious about exclusivity in all its forms, then inour classrooms, it is our duty to equally represent women and men in all units of study. In addition, as part of that study, we need to analyse why women are under represented, why the voice of the male is privileged and what that means for historical inquiry. Only then can we get a better understanding of the nature of power and authority in the ancient world and how incredible it was for Hatshepsut to break those traditions, rule a peaceful Egypt for over 20 years, die of natural causes and be considered one of Egypt's greatest pharaohs.  Eat your heart out, Julius Caesar!

On this #IWD2018, I have been really pleased to see many historians use their Twitter handles to promote the stories of women , often illustrated with the appropriate historical evidence. Mary Beard's passion for this is clear, she weathers Twitter storms on a regular basis for speaking out. Kara Cooney, Margaret Maitland

The Ides of March cometh!

'Women and Power: a manifesto', by Mary Beard: a review

'Women and Power: a manifesto', by Mary Beard: a review