Understanding history and ourselves: Make time for the Speaker Series


Allison Markman, Staff Writer

We all have copious amounts of homework, tests, and extracurriculars after school, but the speaker series installments are truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The history department Speaker Series on Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality provides students with a chance to hear from renowned professors who are experts in their fields. At HM however, we often take for granted the education we receive at the school and the opportunities associated with it. Attending the speaker series is one of the ways our community can take full advantage of our distinguished academic experience. 

 To become responsible and active members of society, it is important that we are aware of intersectionality so we can better acknowledge the differences among us. Intersectionality provides a lens through which we, as students, can examine societal practices and structures in a more expansive way. Furthermore, it can also be a lens through which we approach our studies and the complex experiences presented in our own curricula. In several of my classes, not just history, we have discussed issues that require us to utilize an intersectional framework. Adopting an intersectional mindset can allow you to understand how things work in tandem, creating a radically different view of the processes that surround us. These intellectual conversations are critical in broadening one’s scope and engaging in important political dialogues. 

Intersectionality is often misunderstood. It has been used in politics to fuel a larger culture war and evoke strong emotions from both sides of the political spectrum. The speaker series discusses these instances of discrimination in a more enlightening manner, demonstrating intersectionally is not a negative concept. In the last session, Dr. Capó discussed how for many immigrants, a pathway to citizenship was through marriage. When gay marriage was not recognized by the government, he argued that it prevented a minority group from the means of achieving citizenship. Dr. Capo’s example exemplifies how laws can unintentionally result in prejudice and unjust results. In this way, speakers who specifically focus on the interconnected nature of identities, as well as the interdependent systems of disadvantage and prejudice, will not only help in the classroom but beyond as well– therefore, those who do not attend the speaker series are missing out. 

Moreover, in this year’s first Speaker Series installment, the professors shared skills regarding how they find sources in their research. The speakers Dr. Capo and Dr. Sueyoshi explained how they turn to cultural sources such as music and letters for a more substantial understanding of historical context. These experts’ firsthand accounts about how they conduct their work can be eye-opening and inspirational for many who are beginning to write year-long papers and theses. The Speaker Series has inspired me to go beyond my usual research such as databases and scholarly articles, and push myself to find unconventional discoveries such as delving into the social, cultural, and artistic spheres of a subject. This methodology also extends far beyond the realm of what one would consider historical research. These insights are not just important for history courses, but for languages, sciences, arts, and English. In English, one can better understand a character by analyzing their intersecting identities.

With the speaker series, students have a chance to ask questions to leading historians in the country, yet do so only out of obligation to fulfill an assignment rather than intellectual interest. Students who dropped their history classes tend to not go to the speaker series. Additionally, I often hear my friends talk about how they will not attend because there is no homework to hand in. Students who choose not to participate simply because they have no assignment related to the discussion are discarding the chance to hear from professionals offering a personal and transparent account of their line of work. It is just one hour once a month.

The history department works tirelessly to cultivate a group of specialists to enlighten us about their field of study– people you might never get to hear from again. We must thus reframe our understanding of the event as an opportunity and not solely an academic obligation. In January, when we have the next speaker series, I urge everyone to attend. Privileges like the speaker series are rare, and, though we as Horace Mann students can feel oversaturated with obligations, it’s vital that we take every moment we can to better ourselves as students and members of society.