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There’s an App for That! Utilizing Technology to Pull Back the Gendered Veil on History

As I discussed earlier in a blog post about teaching history, students, because of gender bias, can miss out on critical dimensions of learning about the past. The example I used was Clara Barton, an extraordinary historical figure from the Civil War period who went on to found the American Red Cross. Her story is just as or more important than many of the male figures from her period, but because her narrative does fit into the narrow masculinized assumptions of teaching history, she is seen as a minor player. Barton’s actions were far from marginal. She worked to alleviate great suffering throughout the Civil War, America’s most devastating conflict, provided essential leadership and established the critical system we have today for supplying our hospitals and clinics with blood for transfusions. Clara Barton is the last person we want marginalized in the textbook wars because she is a woman.

So what do we do with those millions and millions of history and social science textbooks out there whose constructs support imbalanced gender assumptions, leaving the critical players like Clara Barton out of the picture?

Interestingly enough, this is where our learning from the past has an ally in the future. An advertising agency, Goodby Silverstein and Partners has created an App called “Lessons in Herstory”. Using augmented reality, the App works like this: scan a picture of a male figure in an American History textbook, and the App references the stories of important women from that historical period. Currently, the App contains information on 75 women and their contributions.

The App is certainly subversive and disruptive. It interrupts a type of thinking and an understanding of history that is actually inaccurate: that men’s interpretation of the human drama is a product of male engagement and women were but bit players. More often, what we can say is that men have decided to continually reinvent this narrative of history, placing themselves and their perceptions of what matters at the center, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

What the App does not provide is a solution for how we reshape history education for children and young adults which is based on a very different gender narrative and therefore a very different set of assumptions regarding what constitutes the true story of human civilization. Children deserve a more transparent and honest version of history that does not require them having to pull out their phones in order to unveil the true story.

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