Monday, June 15, 2015

SHEG sees the world... with blinders on.

It's been a while since I've done a Weinberg watch and SHEG has launched new world history resources.  And bonus, I'm teaching ancient world history next year so what better time to check in on SHEG and see what they are up to.  Unfortunately, the results are new sources, same story. 

I looked at the SHEG lesson plans for Hummurabi's Code.  Now most standard readings of the Code focus on a few key points.  1) It's the first written law code.  2) The Code had different punishments based on social status  3) The Code enshrined patriarchy as the law of the land.  When I say patriarchy I'm referring specifically to two features: the rule of fathers and attempts to guarantee inheritance through the male line.  Pretty much every textbook I've worked with has focused on these three features of the Code.  So how did SHEG do?  Well, they got one and two but completely missed on 3.  How badly did they miss on three?  Way badly.

First off, they include one quote about gender relations.  The first is about husbands and fathers being able to sell wives and children into slavery.  Clearly women and children are the property of fathers and husbands.  The second quote is this one:

If a man wishes to separate from his wife who has borne him no children, he shall give her the amount of her purchase money and the dowry which she brought from her father's house, and let her go.

The husband here has all the agency.  A man can separate from his wife (if she has failed to produce children and therefore is not good wife material) if he gives her back her purchase money and dowry and let's her go.  If we read the code more fully it becomes clear that the place she is going is to her father's house.  She is being return and the father gets his money back for his defective merchandise - the barren wife.  How did the folks at SHEG read this:  incredibly they teacher's guide tell's teachers that this quote indicates:  "that women had some rights."  This in the middle of a section of some forty rules (out of 282) about women, marriage, property, and inheritance. 

I don't know who is calling the shots at SHEG in terms of creating these lesson plans, but dear god, make them stop and get somebody who knows what they are doing in there?  This is actually worse than the textbooks that ignore the gender angle altogether. 


1 comment:

  1. I have read a certain number of history textbooks with a rather mindless pollyannishness about women's contributions to and status in history. Also others with a rather mindless whinging about the same. Let me propose to you a thesis: these SHEG johnnies were going along with Mindless Feminist Pollyannishness, you're sandbagging them with (Ever So Mindful) Feminist Whinging, and you should give them a break, since this is an intramural quarrel.

    As for the dowry bit, surely the interpretation turns in part on the alternatives? That is, are there other states where the wife doesn't get back her dowry money if the husband divorces her? And I seem to remember reading anthropology works that distinguish Eurasia from Africa precisely on the question of effective control by the wife of her dowry, as a register of a minimum of concern for women, and as an informal means to give a wife leverage within a marriage. That anthropology would provide some support for the more Pollyanna view of Hammurabi's Code.

    And surely the pedagogic point of that particular example is: All these students think the past is full of Crimethink we must condemn. Try to point out the complexity! Get students to think and not just condescend to the past! Even if they get the point of that particular quote a bit off--or a lot off--what they're trying to do seems reasonable enough.