Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Children as a historical force

My sons have a knack for taking everyday objects and doing weird things with them. For instance, the other day, dozens of containers, kitchen implements and assorted bottles of lotion and hand sanitizer were lined up on the arm of the sofa. My four year old was making cannon balls, acid and medicine. Vivid imagination, an eye for detail, geeky parents, and way too many episodes of Myth Busters combined have made my kids very smart and very strange.  They also make me think about things.

History, at least Euro-American history, (not the vernacular use of the word when referring to the past), is very much HIStory.  You don't here much about women or children, in spite of all the evidence that they actually existed in the past.  I wonder how much of past events were driven by children (and women, but that's another post for another day).  Much of the improvisation, creation and motivation in my household is fueled by my kids.  Meeting their needs, handling their inquisitive natures, dealing with their accidents have led to many changes in my life.  I imagine that children were pretty much the same in the past as they are now, so many things could have conceivably been invented for or by children.

Careful examination of historical records show that women have been inventors and innovators who are ignored by History as a discipline.  Rosalind Franklin had figured out the structure of DNA before Watson and Crick, but she didn't get the credit.  Eli Whitney's cotton gin design owed it's success to a woman, but again, she gets no credit. Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, influenced American politics as a confidante and intellectual, but few Americans know of her, and fewer have read her letters. Lewis and Clark wouldn't have gotten as far as they did in their travels through the Louisiana Purchase without the skills and strength of Sacajawea, who did some of that journey pregnant or carrying a baby on her back.

With many other cases available to make this point, I believe that any group that lived through past events, but who has little presence or voice in the annals of history, probably had much more to do with how the world was shaped than did any of the men praised by historians.  The innate curiosity and boundless energy of children coupled with the nature of the developing child brain make it very likely that children, especially in prehistory, may have driven many of the events of the past that shape us today.  Look at the horror mothers of today feel when we see our baby stuff something we consider inedible into the mouth, but in the past, that same action could conceivable taught us certain plants were edible (or not).  Muddy hands could have painted the first pictures. Nosy children may have been privy to many of the greatest secrets of humankind, but they aren't included in the narrative.

If we consciously think about who and why history is created, all sorts of possible pasts (and therefore futures) open up.  Power struggles and politics become illuminated and we are forced to ask ourselves if we perpetuate or deny the system.  

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