Monday, June 22, 2020

Secret History

Everything has a secret history. There is always more to know. We can know the facts. We can know alternate interpretations of events. We can question motivation related to actions. We can learn about circumstances surrounding experiences.  To be information literate, one must know that we can always dig deeper to learn the secret histories -- that which currently remains unknown -- of everything. Last week, I finished reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman by historian Jill Lepore and thought about how we often accept what we (me, you, and my students) see or think, without this deeper questioning. 

The Secret History of Wonder Woman,' by Jill Lepore - The New York ...
The highly recommended 
true-story of  the
Wonder Woman origin
I have always admired the Wonder Woman character for her strength, but having grown up on Lynda Carter's 70s version of the superhero, I thought she was a bit...well...corny.  Diving into my favorite "secret" places, Lepore explores in her book both formal archival collections and family papers, to dig up what has remained unknown to most comic readers. What is the true origin of Wonder Woman? (I don't mean Paradise Island!) What were the family and societal circumstances surrounding her creation? 

The mid-twentieth century creation of William Moulton Marston (who invented the lie detector, lived with two women as the father of both their children, and jumped from interesting job to interesting job), Wonder Woman embodies the morals and dreams of the famed psychologist. This book provides Marston's distorted sense of Women's Rights and his own personal sexual revolution (decades before its time) as a backdrop to the story of the Superhero. The characters in her life were based on those in Marston's, and Jill Lepore does a remarkable job of entwining their stories in the first three quarters of the book .

Lepore continues evaluating the Wonder Woman story after Marston's death. Based on deep archival research, Lepore examines how WW was relegated to a more traditional female role in the 1950s and later in the 60s and 70s found her own again as a symbol of women's fight for equality. -Mannon on Goodreads

Powerpuff Girls from the Cartoon Network
If you haven't already listened, I highly recommend Lepore's podcast called The Last Archive. This is where I first was told to start questioning the surface of my now favorite superhero. (I once favored the PowerPuff Girls whose origin story is not nearly as interesting!) From the podcast, learn how a historian thinks about the world and questions. "The Last Archive is a show about how we know what we know and why it seems, lately, as if we don’t know anything at all."

Why does everything lately seem so unknowable? I am fairly certain, based on my teaching experiences of both adults and young adults, it is because we have forgotten how to effectively question. We flip from web site to website and from social media post to social media post, looking to be passively entertained. Or, we do a quick search, expecting a quick answer. We often don't think about the answers we are given. We don't question motivation or circumstance or alternative views. We don't dig for information. 

The key to discovering secret histories, to finding facts, and to knowing, is inquiry. 

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