history books

I’ve been reading more of Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures, and I’m finding it really awe-inspiring and thought-provoking. And I’m not even that much further in (haven’t been doing quite as much reading as I hoped, but such is life, and I read slowly).

Yesterday I read the part where some important guy (I forget who — one thing I’m having trouble with is all the names and titles in this book, but that happens with other books too, so it might just be me) — anyway, important guy (some higher-up in the military) is giving a speech to an assembly of staff from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and he commends them for their work. This is set in the years of WWII, so he tells them that they are helping the war effort as much as the soldiers on the frontlines.

And that got me thinking about how, in all my history lessons in school about the World Wars, no one ever mentions the researchers and scientists and engineers that had to invent and innovate and problem-solve to help “win the war”. I remember being told about the surge in women entering the workforce for jobs that involved things like sewing, cooking, and nursing; and I remember learning about large factories and warehouses that employed a lot of people; but I don’t remember being told about the recruitment drive for scientists and mathematicians.

One tangential thought after another, I eventually found myself wondering about what other turning points, milestones and significant events have been left out of history books. I know that the desperation for workers during the wars resulted in an increase in female employment, but was there also an increase in employment for indigenous people? Did they enter into skilled positions or secure professional/intellectual jobs, like the women of Hidden Figures? Are there other random, seemingly minor events that quietly shaped the history of the world in general?

Are there things happening right now that will change our lives that no one knows about?

(Am I being too dramatic here? Might be the coffee…)

On another tangent, I started wondering about why people keep journals and diaries. More specifically, I was thinking about how I used to keep a very brief record of noteworthy events. Of course, the designation of “noteworthy” is highly arbitrary and subjective. It was more that I just wanted to remember going somewhere with certain people, doing certain things. But why? Just to be able to look back and know, yeah, I did something that day?

I think I just like having memories to look back on, and I liked knowing the specific dates that things happened. “Liked”, past tense, because I don’t keep a journal anymore. I guess I’m sort of caught between wanting to know all of history, and feeling like there’s too much history to know. It’s like being at a party full of interesting people, and I want to talk to them all, but there are too many of them, and the party will be over soon. (And can I get all their phone numbers?)

When I change things or make seemingly minor improvements at work, I joke with my colleagues that this or that will be my legacy — this new form that replaced an outdated system, or this new way to streamline a procedure. I never imagine that my own work will have very far-reaching (let alone historically significant) effects. I wonder if the women of Hidden Figures ever fully comprehended the impact of the work they were doing. Either way, they are in the history books now.

5 thoughts on “history books

  1. Maybe it just isn’t possibly to fully grasp the importance of something while we’re in the middle of it. And history *recorders* decide what will be important to know further down the line so certain things get emphasized & others don’t. And our own personal relation to an event usually feels different than the way an event is preserved in the “records.”

  2. I wonder if any of us really understand the significance of what we are doing while we are doing it. At least when it comes to the big picture. I know when I make small adjustments in my personal history but I don’t suppose I fully understand my place in the History of the World. Fascinating subject upon which to muse.

    • I think sometimes the world feels too big and crowded, so any action by one person seems small. Maybe it’s like that saying “can’t see the forest for the trees”, but in a good sense, like we are part of a forest but we think it’s just trees 🤔

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