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Blog: Nov. 28, 2012


The History Channel has just launched a TV series called 
"Mankind: The Story of All of Us," a series that is supposed to "recount humankind's full history,” as The Week magazine put it on Nov. 16. Unfortunately, it is very much out of date and therefore full of errors, especially errors of omission.

To begin with, the use of the term "mankind" to refer to humans is dated and misleading. Back in the 1970s editors were directed to edit this term out of books because it implies that "man" is the only important part of the genus "humans." Unless the author was also writing a section on "womankind," the word "humans" should be substituted for the limited and out-of-date word "mankind." (Did you notice that the editor at The Week handled this matter accurately?)

Moreover, the first segment of this series omitted to point out that women were so respected in prehistoric societies as creators of new life that until the second millenia BCE those societies were completely matrilinear. Women ran everything, and even the gods were female. So the "band of brothers" posited by the film as the basis for a family group might easily have been "a band of sisters." In Africa, the South Pacific, and in the Americas, society continued to be based on female power until much later than that. Haven't the film's writers read the solid research in A History of Women in the World, Volume I, From Eve to Dawn, by Marilyn French?

One of the many other aspects of early life the film also omitted was women's early production of goods needed for collecting plants, berries, seeds, birds' eggs, and small animals encountered in their daily search for food. They needed containers, so they made them from tree and bush fibers, as explained in Women's Work: The First 20,0000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. Because women created the items needed to sustain daily life, they were probably our first designers.

Other omissions in the film occurred when the filmmaker showed men as the only hunters (women hunted, too) and the only fighters. Wrong again. Even the ancient Romans were scared to death of the wild Keltic tribes of both men and women who attacked them with frightening cries.

I've stopped watching that series because as a historian I have no confidence that anything I see in it is accurate.

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