Microhistory and Guardians

In Grad school, I wrote a paper about the Iroquois Influence debate that pitted the biggest names of history against Don Grinde and Bruce Johanson. There was miles of ink spilled in the debate on the quality of the work on those who believed that the Iroquois influenced the creation of the American Constitution and those who took a more traditional approach. I have recently become concerned with what I see as the movement of the many to disagree and discount the experiences of the few in the “authentic” record. We have seen  a great number of quotes about Alternative Facts appearing. I want to take a moment and think through alternative facts and the living reality of the few.

In many ways, history is written by the majority. It is written by consensus among the historical field based upon the sources which were left during the time period. It takes a major amount of peer review before theories pass muster and enter into accepted historical understanding and “cannon.”  And yet, as the movie “The minority report” reminds us, there are always those that disagree. In the minority report, a person is accused of a pre-crime, and is hunted down in order to prevent the crime from occurring. There is no get out of jail free. If you are accused, you are accused. Then, when one of the officers charged with enforcing the law is accused of a pre-crime, he finds out that there is not unanimous agreement in the prediction of the pre-crime. Rather, a “Minority Report” may indicate that the crime might not be committed. In history, we have these “minority reports.” There are historians who often buck the trend, find a different interpretation, and publish alternative views on events. Many times, these historians do not gain fame, or prestige, or that rarest of jobs, tenure track positions. It often takes decades for these views or facts to become considered in the main stream of the historical cannon.

Women’s history, ethic minorities, LGBTQ, and social history in general has taken years to become accepted as mainstream history. If not for the works of Mary Beth Norton, or Gary Nash, or John Hope Franklin, would this rich, engaging, and important part of the American Narrative gained its place in the cannon of history.  I would encourage all historians, students of history, and social studies teachers to think about how we encourage our students to examine their histories, but more importantly, the micro histories which add depth and breadth to the historical narrative.

What is Microhistory? Essentially, it is history at the smallest levels. It is not Bernard Bailyn, or Jared Diamond. It is local, it is singular, it is personal.  Alfred Young does an amazing job in his work The Shoemaker and the Tea party in exploring the microhistory  of the Boston Tea Party.  Maybe reading about Clara Barton would be a good start. I for one love the new book Hidden Figures about the role of women in NASA. This well written work examines a forgot and important STEM area that gives young people some role models.

Since today is Mother’s day, I would be remiss if I did not mention my mom, Patricia Jakubowski- who serves as a great story of her own. Born in South Buffalo to poor German and Irish families who had served as fire fighters and mechanics, my mother gave up her dream of oceanography to become a nurse. Graduating from E J Meyer school of nursing in Buffalo, Mom served as a nurse at Buffalo General. She then went to serve as a nurse at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville. Mom also served as a a nurse for Our Lady of Victory home for children in Lackawanna NY and as a state nursing home/ safety inspector and psych hospital nurse. Mom has always helped those at need- friends of the family, family members, or children who’s own parents could not or would not help them. Mom has taken the nursing oath-

Before God and those assembled here, I solemnly pledge;
To adhere to the code of ethics of the nursing profession;
To co-operate faithfully with the other members of the nursing team and to carryout [sic] faithfully and to the best of my ability the instructions of the physician or the nurse who may be assigned to supervise my work;
I will not do anything evil or malicious and I will not knowingly give any harmful drug or assist in malpractice.
I will not reveal any confidential information that may come to my knowledge in the course of my work.
And I pledge myself to do all in my power to raise the standards and prestige of the practical nursing
May my life be devoted to service and to the high ideals of the nursing profession

to heart…… Mom- I love you!


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