Introducing Integrated Histories
If compensatory history is the equivalent of a silver medal, it's time we took the gold 🥇
Back in 2019, I spent a week binge-watching The Last Kingdom on Netflix. IT IS BRILLIANT. Then the thought occurred that I didn't really know much about the 9th century in England - beyond the general Anglo-Saxons vs. Vikings narrative.
And that's good, interesting stuff. You need that top-level view on any topic. You need to know what the political priorities were, who was in power (and who wasn't), those overarching political and economic ideas. This was an important time in the formation of the political entity that would become ‘England.’
But this is just a top-level view. It is crucial to understand that it is NOT the only view. It should never be seen in isolation. If you really want a sense of society at any given time and in any given place, you need to roll up your sleeves and get digging. So in my quest to know a bit more of England in the 9th century, that's exactly what I did.
Long story short, I spent around 3 hours on Amazon and was about to spend over £100 on books. As I hovered over the "buy now" button, I realised that there was no guarantee I would find what I was looking for.
💡 And then I had a bit of a lightbulb moment:
Why is it okay to call a book "The Anglo-Saxons" if the only people in it are white, economically privileged men in positions of leadership?
Shouldn't that be called "A History of Some Anglo-Saxons?"
Or maybe: "A History of White, Economically Privileged, Cis-Male Anglo-Saxons and Some Vikings From Similar Groups."
True, that title won’t win any prizes for creativity 🤣 but as a consumer with limited financial resources, I’d appreciate the heads up.
More importantly, it is (misleading) book titles and content that keep diverse history separate from the mainstream. It is otherised and, by default, the people who have a marginalised identity (which is the majority, btw) are also otherised.
We shouldn't even have a category called 'diverse history' because diverse history shouldn't exist.
That's what I realised in 2019, dear reader:
💡 Diverse history should not exist 💡
And by default, I shouldn't have to talk about being a diverse historian for people to understand what I do. I shouldn't have to use the name "herstorian" for people to recognise what I'm about.
The fact that I do is a problem. A BIG PROBLEM.
And, for some reason, I've made it MY problem 🤣
What I've also noticed is that diverse history is growing (BRILLIANT) but it is not being systematically integrated into the mainstream narrative, which only emphasises its status as the underdog/silver medal/other.
And I'm just not having it.
It's time to drag this discipline into the 21st century.
I'd love to say that in a flash of divine inspiration, I immediately knew the solution to this problem. Sadly, it wasn't that dramatic nor immediate. But I do have something up my sleeve and I’ve sat on it for way too long. It's time to start testing it out.
I'm calling it "Integrated Histories."
Simply put, “Integrated” feels like a good fit.
It feels like the right word to talk about history that encompasses multiple perspectives at the same time. But the concept goes even further than that, and this is where that sense of "coordination" comes into play.
To truly integrate requires a challenge to what we already have. It has to pull together all of the existing issues or shortcomings and transform them into something more holistic. It really is a conscious, coordinated effort.
Specifically, Integration tackles certain issues head-on:
1. It acknowledges that history (as a discipline) has always been part of a wider political and cultural power play. The erasure of certain groups is never accidental; it is a deliberate act - even if that act has happened unconsciously.
2. It rests on the notion that the past and present share a direct, causal relationship. The term for this is "historical consciousness." It is no coincidence that the groups missing from history lessons and books are the ones who experience the highest levels of discrimination today. It's time we started upping our consciousness game.
3. It demands a prioritisation of research into 'diverse histories' (or the artist formerly known as) to ensure equitable representation now and in the future. (And I hope this will go some way in improving the chronic lack of representation in the discipline itself. Did you know that only 1% of British historians are Black?)
4. It invites a rethink of existing labels, terminologies and concepts. Not everyone had a 'Renaissance.' What's the 'Middle Ages' in the middle of? Who coined these terms and whose experiences do they spotlight? How is history ‘made’ and how is it ‘carried out?’
At its core, Integration requires a radical reconceptualisation of the past that brings with difficult conversations and uncomfortable truths. It means that we challenge everything we think we know about the past and stop seeing certain groups as the only historical actors of significance.
Reconceptualising does not mean rewriting.
History must shed its image as a finite resource, pushed and pulled in a political tug of war. There is room for every voice to be heard and the discipline must take action to reflect that. And when I say “the discipline,” I mean ALL. OF. IT. From primary school history right the way to the upper echelons of academia and beyond.
If these are the foundational principles, then I hope to spend the next few months playing around with the next layer: the roadmap that takes us there. I hope you’ll stay with me ♥