Editor’s Note: Every Summer, RockEDU meets a new cohort of talented, ambitious and passionate high school students from across the United States. RockEDU’s Summer Science Research Program (SSRP) is highly selective, and prior to admission, students undergo a rigorous review process that involves interviews, applications and multiple phases. Once students have been admitted into the SSRP, they are privy to the invaluable experience of working in a Rockefeller University laboratory under the direct supervision of a scientist-mentor. Students conduct and present research, attend numerous events—both social and scientific!—, and develop critical professional skills and connections within the university. During the application process, students are required to submit a personal statement on one of two prompts. During our 2018 application pool, we received many excellent personal statements, and with permission from the author, have decided to share one especially powerful and poignant essay.
Prompt: At the root of science fiction stories and characters is a scientific idea that has been stretched beyond what is humanly possible. Assume the constraints of reality have been removed, and you can use science to give yourself a superpower. What would this superpower be, and why would you want it?
If the constraints of reality were removed, I would use science to give myself the power of time travel and shapeshifting. I would travel back in time to marginalized civilizations and cultures throughout history in order to directly observe their experiences. I would act as a messenger and bring their stories to present-day; incorporating them into our historical frameworks, allowing for a deeply enriched understanding of our past, and facilitating broader perspectives on our future.
As it stands, our history is quite euro-centric, and overtly lacks the voices of historically undermined individuals and societies.
In order to avoid tampering with history, my shapeshifting abilities would enable full assimilation into each respective society. I would observe these societies, inconspicuously, and ultimately use this knowledge to transform into a native with full linguistic capabilities. Living amongst other natives and gathering stories, lessons and experiences from their culture would allow me to create an exhaustive world history database.
Throughout my academic career as a minority, I have consistently taken interest in the underrepresented voices in history. World History is often taught from an euro-centric perspective, due to its authorship by the conquerors. Europeans are praised for connecting the two hemispheres through “discovering” and conquering the Americas. Adam Smith, the founding father of capitalism said, “The discovery of America, and that of the passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest events recorded in the history of [human] kind.” By conquering the Americas and traveling the Cape of Good Hope in order to control Indian Ocean trade, Europe became a major world power and created a globalized economy. Europeans were the center of the new globalized economy, where they commanded large empires that oppressed the colonized people and left them destitute. Unfortunately, historians in the past have agreed with Adam Smith’s assertion that this is “the world’s greatest feat”, which further elucidates the breadth of euro-centric dominance.
The contributions of many great civilizations are often shrouded, or entirely unacknowledged by the Europeans. American engineer Charles Goodyear received his patent for vulcanization in 1843, but now historians believe that the Mayans had been producing rubber for 3,000 years. In the post-classical era, Western Europe was on the periphery of the Afro-Eurasian world and owe their success to Islamic and Chinese innovations. The Portuguese would not have been successful without the Chinese compass or Arabic lateen sail. Additionally, there are many other societies and civilization that are underrepresented in our history books and, if they’re “fortunate” receive an honorable mention.
Today, there are new developments geared towards diversifying our history by prioritizing inclusivity and minimizing the representative euro-centric foundation. Currently, historians credit and praise other great civilizations for their accomplishments. However, the information on other societies is not as plentiful, prominent or dimensional as the accounts on European success. Thus, my superpower would remedy this issue and restore an equitable and balanced historical account.