Megan Barney '17: Exploring history beyond the textbooks

For Megan Barney ’17, a more inclusive history can help prevent history from repeating itself. This is a principle she applies in the way she does her work with Facing History & Ourselves, an educational non-profit organization that uses lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate.

“The way I’ve thought about it in my work is by ensuring accessibility and access,” she explained. “It can apply to practical things like paying attention to the level you are writing at and who has access to that and who doesn’t.”

In fall 2023, Barney visited the Elmira College campus to give a presentation called, “Co-Creating a More Inclusive History.” Barney earned a BA in History and American Studies at EC and an MA in Public History with a Certificate in Digital Humanities from Northeastern University.

In her presentation, Barney challenged faculty, staff, and students to learn about the people and voices not typically listed in the history textbooks. The information is based on her research for a project called History Needs New Heroes.

Barney helped visually demonstrate the skewed view of history she says many people have received in school. To emphasize this lesson, she challenged attendees to think about the historical figures they learned about and then submit their responses electronically. These responses were then formed into a word cloud on the presentation screen. Overwhelmingly, the list of names included United States presidents. Except for Martin Luther King Jr., very few names were of women or people of color.

"It was a treat to see my former student provide an engaging and thoughtful presentation on one of the most pressing questions facing the History curriculum today: Whose stories get told? Whose stories matter? What happens when you include a forgotten/lost/ignored voice in the discussion?” Dr. Charles Mitchell, Professor of American Studies, said. “As Megan so deftly pointed out, one of the things that happens when you go beyond the textbook, is you get a more thorough, and a more interesting, history."

Barney also enjoyed returning to Elmira College where she not only could see a few former classmates, but also those who taught her the lessons that have helped her along her professional journey.

“Now I can come back and say, this is what I took with me and what I’ve evolved into,” she said.

“I was given many opportunities at EC to speak and take on leadership positions. I was an orientation leader and helped run the orientation program and that built my leadership skills in ways you can’t do in bigger colleges and universities.”

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