Johnson: Why I’m tired of “Great Men” history

Grace Johnson, Staff Writer

I love history. There is something so fascinating and special about discovering the intricate details of the way others resided on this same planet as we did, just at a different point in our rotation around the sun. The way humans, through the generations, treated this same ground and air.


However, there’s a problem within that study.


Rather than truly diving deep into how people like ourselves served this world, we are barraged with a glut of information about how predominantly male rulers, inventors and famous people throughout time treated this space. While we shouldn’t ignore parts of history that involve men, there shouldn’t be a severe emphasis on history that revolves around males. 


In other words, I believe that social history—the true history of the masses—should be taught in an educational setting and more widely studied and explored. 


Leaders matter. Major uprisings and revolutions mean something. Wars are important. However, do these things matter without discussing the people they affect? Or perhaps did not affect? 


The peasant gets one line in the textbook, whereas the love life of King Henry VIII of England is awarded five or six pages. Thomas Jefferson’s genius is on the receiving end of biographies and critical acclaim, but the small family toughing it in the New World is paid little to no attention. 


Why is “Great Men” history emphasized so fervently? Why do these leaders lay in infamy throughout libraries of literature, but the everyday person is almost forgotten?

That forgotten person is the one we have ancestry with (or at least most of us). I have concluded that I want to know how another 19-year-old female from small-town Ohio was spending her time 100 years ago. I want to know how these people like us lived their lives on a daily basis and how they responded to these significant events. 


Those few “Great Men” have received the attention of the masses for generations, including the admiration and legacy that follows. However, in the grand scheme of things, why do they matter? History should be about learning from those who came before and understanding their perspectives and thought processes, not about the ten or twenty famous men who the majority of their contemporaries probably didn’t even know existed.


In no way am I saying that the life of George Washington is irrelevant to our knowledge and study of the past. On the contrary, I believe that the discussion of ground-shakers is imperative in our dive into history. However, there should be some sort of balance between these two schools of thought and fields of study. Both have their place, but we should analyze famous men and the average person in equal parts. 


I do not believe that this is a tall order or an impossible undertaking. With our current political and social climate and practically infinite resources, this is a very possible avenue and future. It will take some time and advocacy and work, but it is still a possible feat. 


It is time for a change in the tides and in the way that we, as humans, learn about other humans. Furthermore, I also doubt very much that I am alone in this sentiment. I think we’re all a little tired of the same few men dictating the trajectory of our curriculum and education of the past.