As a history major in college, the one misconception that frustrated me the most about my area of study was its supposed boring-ness. The mere mention of history was enough to incite visions of memorizing dates, reciting the order of presidents, or lugging around dusty textbooks—and here I was, willingly subjecting myself to such torture! Here’s the thing: I get it. How can history be interesting—let alone relevant— if you’re just learning about rich white men who fought in wars?
It wasn’t until I began college that I realized my passion for history. For the first time, I was in history classes devoted to the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality throughout different periods of time, in different parts of the world. I learned about the history that you won’t find in in any high school textbook. Forget thinking you’re ahead of the game because your syllabus features Susan B. Anthony—I was learning about the stories of those rendered invisible simply because society deemed them unimportant. I learned about the life experiences of women of color, queer people, domestic workers, the working-class. I learned about the pain and hate and fear experienced by so many around the world—of the Puerto Rican women who were subject to the first birth control trials, who were purposely not informed of the severe health risks; of the Black domestic workers in the1950s who would stand for hours in the street (this was aptly named the “Bronx Slave Market”) waiting for white housewives to drive by and buy their labor for abysmally low wages. I learned about rape as a weapon of war, anti-colonialism, shifting conceptions of femininity and masculinity. By taking these classes—by reading the primary sources, going into the archives, asking questions, seeing the connections between the past and the present—I felt I was honoring these voices, remembering these human beings who suffered and struggled, but who also resisted and triumphed. This, to me, is what history is. When I study history, I am studying what it means to be a human.
And there is no better time to study what it means to be a human than right now, in the time of Trump. With the well-being and safety of so many at risk—through the changes in immigration policy, the attack on reproductive rights, and the general climate of hostility and hatred and ignorance—it is both exhausting and frightening to try to figure out what tomorrow will bring, let alone four years. Yet it is at these moments—when the opposition seems invincible, when families are being torn apart, where basic human rights and legal systems are put into question—that consulting history can be the best decision.
With March dedicated to women’s history, there are endless stories to draw on from past social movements that can inform how exactly one lives—and organizes and persists and continues—in this turbulent present. History first has the power of reminding us of shared human experiences. That what we are feeling now has, actually, been felt before. The question is then: how did this feeling transform into large-scale political action? How do protests get governments to actually listen to the demands of the masses? And who are these masses anyways—and what voices are left out?
For all the activists, politicians, students, and humans who refuse to comply with Trump’s actions: this March, look back on the stories of how women have agitated for change, challenged unacceptable conditions, and spoken out despite the risks. Their methods for resistance are incredibly relevant and important for understanding the protests happening right now. Women’s history not only shows the struggles but also renews the spirit. There is so much injustice and hate in this world—yes, of course—but on a particularly tough day, learning how Southern black domestic workers in the 1880s successfully went on strike for better working and living conditions gives strength to continue on. To remember that despite the difficulty, it can be done. To remember that when you are protesting, you are accompanied by the women that came before you. My humble request during this Women’s History Month is simply: give history a chance. The future depends on it.