The Hidden Figures of History

The Hidden Figures of History

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The ‘Hidden Figures’ movie, due for release early in 2017, is an incredible untold story of three women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson.

They were brilliant mathematicians and physicists, qualified in engineering and specialist areas such as sonic boom science.

And yet their contribution to science has remained hidden for decades.

They are hidden figures in history because not only are they women, but they are African-American. They worked for NASA; they were the brains behind a daring operation: to launch astronaut John Glenn into orbit.

It was a stunning achievement that restored America’s confidence of its place in the Space Race. The year was 1962. Married with children, these women crossed all gender and race lines at a time when women struggled to gain footholds in professions dominated by men. In particular, married women found it tough to simultaneously be a wife, mother and employee.

The achievements of these three women remained hidden, until this film, based on a book written by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Who knows how many other achievements and people – men and women – remain hidden. Could you discover them through studying history?


It promises to be a fascinating film, telling a story of three ordinary women who were the minority. African-American women in the 1960s were ‘hidden’ in many walks of life. For the small number of black women who did go to university, on graduating they became teachers, the only real profession open to them.

Across history are people, some in plain sight, others hidden, who have contributed to amazing feats. By studying history courses online, it is possible to hear some of these stories and understand the contribution they made, much like these three women in ‘Hidden Figures’.

Why study history?

For many students, it is a chance to discover stories from the past and understand how and why we do things the way we do today. It is an opportunity to examine the influence that people have on their communities, politics and society.

But there are other practical skills you will gain from studying history courses online;

#1 Transferable skills

Studying history does not solely provide you with the skills needed to study the past. As a Historian, you will need to be analytical; you will learn to question sources, where the information is coming from and why. You will also learn about inference, the skill of reaching a conclusion based on evidence and reasoning. Such skills are essential in many other subjects too.

#2 History is relevant

To make sense of current affairs, we need to understand the past. History is a vast subject. Some Historians are experts in peoples, cultures and societies from ancient times, but other Historians are experts in modern history. Irrespective of your chosen period, the studying of history is explicitly relevant.

#3 Independent learning

History courses online provide the skills needed for self-discipline of your learning. It’s tough sitting down at the end of a long day at work to complete an hour or two of study but, if you want to up skill and gain new insight, you need to complete it. Students find studying online or from home to be incredibly rewarding.

#4 Promotes cultural awareness

Why did these three African-American women remain hidden from this story? Was it because they were women? Or because they were black? Or both?

To understand the answers to these questions and the reasoning behind them, the wider context of life in America during the 1950s and 1960s needs to be appreciated. Although they became specialist engineers and scientists in their own right, these women had to complain in order to be promoted and challenge accepted practices before they were allowed in meetings.

By studying history, students gain a higher level of cultural awareness. And in the modern age where tolerance and discrimination can be lacking, this is an important aspect of history that should not be underestimated.

Does the past have the answers?

Maya Angelou once said that ‘history, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again’.

This means that the past can give us the answers in the future. We can understand why some people remain hidden in history.

NCC Home Learning have several history courses that provide the learner with historical knowledge, as well as practical skills that can be used in further study or day-to-day work.

Enrolling is simple too and with flexible payment terms, you could start discovering hidden figures of history today.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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