In this post, facilitator Ruth Mather outlines her motivations for taking part in the Moving Beyond Boundaries project.
I was really delighted to be invited take part as a facilitator the Moving Beyond Boundaries project. The project gave me an opportunity to move beyond the boundaries of academia and to take some of my research work to a wider audience. This was challenging but highly enjoyable. I’ve rarely been able to teach my own research area before, so it was necessary to think about which ideas I wanted to share, and how to make these interesting and useful for the audience. It was useful to work with a partner, Jessica Haldeman, to pool our different areas of expertise and find connections. Since as PhD candidates we spend a lot of time focusing on a fairly narrow research area, this expanded my own knowledge of the period, as well as making sure the lesson wasn’t all about my personal preoccupations!
Most importantly for me, however, Moving Beyond Boundaries is about encouraging reflection on what history is and what it is for. The crucial message is that what we choose to emphasise in our past is important for our sense of identity in the present day. As a feminist historian, I therefore find the continued dominance of elite white men on the curriculum troubling. This had led the students, we discovered in the first session, to believe that women hadn’t done much worth remembering, although they were aware that this was due to restrictions on women participating in the kinds of events deemed to be worthy of inclusion on the curriculum. Perhaps the topics we think about need to change if we are to include women as anything other than an ‘add-on’. From my own experience, it was not until I began to work on more social history at university that I began find a history with which I could identify, and from which I could build a sense of how my place in society was built from the past. Much of this is of course down to personal preference, but I had found stories of great men and glorious wars and high politics alienating because they didn’t explain how people like me had reacted and participated. There is a place for these narratives, but they must not be the only narratives students receive, because they say that ordinary people – men too, but especially women – and their everyday lives aren’t important. It is not just great events which shape the world, but the seemingly insignificant daily routines in which we all take part, and which contribute in their own ways to the wider stories of power, resistance, continuity and change that are the essence of history. I’m proud to be part of Moving Beyond Boundaries not just because it redresses the balance in representation of women in the history curriculum, but because it encourages students to question what they are taught and why, and how this affects their views of the world we live in today.
Visit Ruth’s blog at http://ruthmather.wordpress.com