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Week 8 Tutor

Dr. Laura Schwartz

Required Readings
  • Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York: Routledge, 1995), especially chapter 1 (e-book, library)
  • bell hooks, Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (London, Pluto, 1982), especially chapter 1.
  • Stefan Berger, History and Identity: How historical theory shapes historical practice, ch 5 'Gender Histories'
Lecture slides (2023)

Jane Austen, through the words of the female protagonist in Northanger Abbey, passed a celebrated judgement on history texts:

History, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in ... I read it a little as a duty but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing and hardly any women at all - it is very tiresome.

While there is a tradition of women writing history outside the academy, historical writing until quite recently was a highly gendered exercise. By the 1970s, within the context of the rise of ‘second-wave feminism’ and its intervention into the ‘new’ social history, there was a call for an exploration of women’s history that did not just add women to the existing narratives but sought to ask new questions, and develop new methods to answer them. Gender history as an idea first came to light in the mid 1970s with individuals such as Joan Kelly and Natalie Zemon Davis advancing new approaches to history. The most optimistic feminist historians saw gender history as theway to ‘demolish entirely the ghettoization of women’s history’ and the way in which to break down the barriers that enshrined the exclusively male orientation of traditional historical topics. Most historians agree that gender is by definition inclusive. Nothing is gender neutral. An analysis of the effects of gender history takes all historians away from the histories of ‘man’ as the universal. And many historians of gender also see nothing as fixed, or essential in the manifestation of gender; rather each age, each set of historical circumstances, has produced its own definitions of masculine and feminine. The analytical possibilities seemed endless. Joan Scott in her important essay ‘Gender: a useful category of historical analysis’, gave the first systematic explanation of this new approach. She described gender as ‘a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes’, the ‘knowledge that establishes meanings for bodily difference’. It was not only about women and men, but also, she continued, society’s ‘primary way of signifying relationships of power’. In this session on gender history we will explore how gender history has evolved and the impact it has had on the discipline of history. We will reflect on how we might use gender ‘as a category of analysis’ in our own work. What can we learn when we look at a theme or topic in history through the lens of gender?

Suggested Essay Questions
  1. How can gender be a ‘category of historical analysis’?
  2. What is the relationship between women’s history and gender history?
  3. Examine McClintock’s book as a gendered history of British imperialism. How does the language of gender construct and legitimise imperialism?
  4. How do gendered definitions of work or family, or the law, shape our understanding of women’s and men’s roles in history?
  5. Gender power was not the superficial patina of Empire, an ephemeral gloss… Rather, gender dynamics were, from the outset, fundamental to the securing and maintenance of the Imperial enterprise.’ Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather, 1995)
  6. 'Gender is a constitutive element of social relations based on perceived differences between the sexes.' (Joan Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, 1989).
Further Reading
  • Judith M. Bennett, ‘Feminism and History’, Gender and History 1.3 (1989): 251-72.
  • Laura Lee Downs, ‘From women’s history to gender history’ in Stefan Berger, Heiko Feldner and Kevin Passmore (eds), Writing History: Theory and Practice (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010, 2nd ed.)
  • Kathleen Canning, ‘Gender History, Meanings, Methods and Metanarratives’, in K. Canning, Gender History in Practice: Historical Perspectives on Bodies, Class and Citizenship (New York, 2005): 3-62.
  • Combahee River Collective Statement (1977) [One of the first theorisations of intersectionality before the term was coined].
  • Olwn Hufton, The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, vol. 1, 1500- 1800 (London, 1995).
  • Sonya O. Rose, Limited Livelihoods: Gender and Class in Nineteenth-Century England (Berkeley, 1993).
  • Joan Scott, ‘Gender: a Useful Category of Historical Analysis’, in J. Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York, 1988). Originally published in the American Historical Review, 91.5 (1986).
  • Alexandra Shepard and Garthine Walker (eds.), Gender and Change: Agency, Chronology and Periodisation (Chichester, 2009), especially the introduction, and chapters 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8.