Monday, March 17, 2014

You make history every day

March 17 - Today's post provided by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

You make history every day.

History is, after all, what we choose to remember. You and I and all of us together decide it will be important to talk about "this" event, "that" place, and "those" people in the future.

One of the most important contributions Dian Fossey made, and Jane Goodall and Biruté Galdikas continue to make, is to preserve the history of our nearest neighbors on the evolutionary tree, our next of kin who don't speak or write. They spent the time that others didn't want to give and made the effort others had dismissed as futile.

Especially now that we accept the idea that most people will have many different jobs and maybe even careers, their commitment to doing one important thing and getting better at it every day over the course of decades is almost unbelievable...and is unbelievably admirable.

(By the way, Maris and I are not over here shaking our fists at kids these days who can't stick with one thing for a lifetime. She and I are both well into our second and third careers, respectively!)

What they got in return for this dedication was the chance to see things nobody imagined seeing and map worlds and societies that nobody imagined existed. They got a chance to show us what it means to be human. And then, in the spirit of scientists everywhere, they shared what they learned. All they asked in return was for the opportunity to go learn more and share that too. Sure, they got famous. Or two of them did, anyway. Jane Goodall is one of the best-known scientists on the planet and Dian Fossey ended up with a feature film about her. But when we talk to people about Primates, Maris and I often hear "I know about those two, but who's that last one?" Biruté Galdikas doesn't have the name recognition of her peers, and that's why she has a special place in our storytelling hearts.

She's the one that holds our book together, and her orangutans are the most difficult of all the large primates to study. I remember reading that Dr. Goodall said she could see more chimpanzee behavior in days, maybe even hours, than Dr. Galdikas could in weeks. And yet orangutans may be the most clever primate of all. As the story goes, if you give a caged chimpanzee a screwdriver, he'll probably break it or throw it at you. A gorilla is more likely to cower, or just ignore it. An orangutan, though? She may look like she's ignoring it too, but when you come back the next morning the screwdriver might still be there but you won't find her, since she'll have used it to remove the hinges of the cage door and leave.

I half suspect that this is just a story primatologists tell to describe the different temperaments and intelligences of our fellow primates, so it might not be the kind of true story we read in history books. But it's a story that tells a truth.

You probably have true stories of both kinds in your head. So I hope you spend some time this month remembering and sharing them. Maris and I get to share by making books. It's a privilege afforded to animals with thumbs and computers and paper and publishers and world wide webs at their disposal. I bet you're the kind of animal that has some of those things handy too, so please make some history by filling the world with more stories.

Jim Ottaviani has written nonfiction, science-oriented comics since 1997, notably the number one New York Times bestseller, Feynman and Fallout which was nominated for an Ignatz Award. He has worked as a nuclear engineer, caddy, programmer, and reference librarian. Primates is his first collaboration with artist Maris Wicks. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Maris Wicks (Primates) lives with fellow primate Joe Quinones and their cat, Biggs, in Somerville, Massachusetts.  She has used her opposable thumbs to draw comics for Adhouse Books, Tugboat Press, and Spongebob Comics, and written stories for Image and DC Comics.  When she's not making comics, Maris works as a program educator at the New England Aquarium.  She is an avid tool user and is particularly fond of bananas.

1 comment:

  1. Primates:The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas (First Second, 2013) is a Women's History Month triple-play - an interwoven story of three dedicated and complex women and the mammals they loved - a perfect choice for older kids and adults, too! Thanks so much for being part of our Women's History Month celebration!