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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Day 5: Cranky Ladies, Horrible Histories & Mary Seacole

March 5th, 2014 at 14:39

We’re still making progress! Up to 43% on the Cranky Ladies of History crowdfunding project at Day 5 – and with 60 supporters, we’re very happy with it so far.

Because so many of our upper level rewards were taken up so quickly, Tehani and I have planned a few extras for people to choose from if they’re feeling generous (and indeed, covetous). The first new level allows supporters to choose one of the stories/historical characters from our completed TOC which will then be illustrated by the amazing Kathleen Jennings – as well as the book itself and our exclusive Cranky Ladies of History calendar, the supporters at this tier will also get a canvas print of the illustration they commissioned!

There have also been plenty of new additions to the Cranky Ladies Blog Tour – one of my favourites is this piece by Faith Mudge, who says a lot of things I was planning to say and hadn’t been able to write down in the right order yet. Obviously that was because she was doing it instead!

I also really enjoyed Joyce Chng’s piece about Leizu, the First Empress – I know next to nothing about Chinese history and mythology, and this was a great start. I’m looking forward to reading more about Joyce’s take on Leizu in fiction.

While we’re talking about history, cranky ladies and all that sort of thing, I also wanted to give a shout out for my family’s favourite tea-time TV show, Horrible Histories. My daughters are both rabid history fangirls, thanks largely to this show and its kid-friendly devotion to sharing the grottiest, grossest and smelliest corners of history. Plus its clever way of using modern TV and storytelling techniques to make history feel very real and relevant, something that even the best teachers struggle with these days. (Their Historical Wife Swap is hilarious and very clever, making pointed commentary on class and gender inequalities in a slightly different way every time)

My girls were always going to be exposed to a love of history, but because of my own personal obsessions and specialities, there was always a danger that we would never get past the Ancient Greeks and Romans, with occasional glimpses of the Egyptians. And yes, it’s true that Raeli actually cheers when the Groovy Greeks segment comes on – she knows which side her bread is buttered on.

But the awesome thing about Horrible Histories is that it takes from many different historical traditions and cultures, and throws up snippets of history that I don’t know a thing about, thereby exposing my daughters to a much wider range. That, combined with their ongoing focus on pointing out where history has messed up, is providing quite a solid grounding, and I’m already seeing Raeli take what she has learned from this silly, musical show, and apply it to broader research.

I especially appreciate it when the show takes pains to point out the unfairnesses of history, whether we’re talking about child labour, voting rights, slavery, and so on. A piece I wanted to call attention to with particular reference to the Cranky Ladies project is the Cliff White-Lie series of sketches, based on the idea that all the misconceptions and false information perpetuated by history books are down to one PR guy who can be bribed to give greater or lesser prominence to particular characters.

In the cowboy episode, we learned how Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp weren’t really as badass or as “heroic” as their reputations suggested… and that meanwhile, their female equivalent, Pearl Hart, was more impressive than either of them and was barely a footnote in the history of the Wild West.

Mary-SeacoleThen there’s this one, which pretty much lays out why so many Cranky Ladies have a reason to be cranky – because it’s the rich, privileged white women like Florence Nightingale who get to be remembered as iconic figures, and the poor black women doing the same work with fewer resources are ignored by the history books… though in the case of Mary Seacole, a modern campaign to bring her into prominence has in fact done wonders. She won the 100 Best Black Britons poll, has had awards named after her, a statue, and is now included in educational materials for primary schools, as well receiving as other public acclaim for her work.

Though for many people outside Jamaica and Britain, her appearance in a certain educational TV show will probably be, as it was for us, the first they’ve heard of her. Which only goes to show the usefulness of comedy! And I really love the fact that my daughters are so rapt by a TV show that teaches them not to believe everything they read about history the first time around – especially when it comes to those with less privilege.

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3 Responses to “Day 5: Cranky Ladies, Horrible Histories & Mary Seacole”

  1. SMD Says:

    Mary Seacole is a fantastic figure. Her book is really fascinating, particularly considering the political climate at the time and her impact, however (seemingly) small. She was part of my dissertation for a while, though I suspect I’m just going to write an essay on her book rather than a chapter.

    Glad to see someone talking about her, though.

  2. Scott Leis Says:

    The campaign progress has jumped today – from 49% when I started work this morning to 56% now, as I’m about to leave work. Very nice.

  3. tansyrr Says:

    I know! It’s so exciting. All thanks to the ABC article.

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