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Hidden from History

tutor: Liz Egan

The women’s liberation movement and gay liberation movements of the 1970s and 1980s provided an important political impetus to history-writing, as people began to want to ‘find’ themselves in the past. Women’s history and gay history first emerged as significant fields (both inside and outside academia) in this period, with historians seeking to uncover a history of women and gay people that had previously been ‘hidden’ by the elite white male bias of the discipline. Soon, however, feminist and gay historians began to question whether their task was simply to reveal what had been obscured, and whether it really was possible to find people ‘like them’ in the past. As poststructuralism gained in influence in the 1980s and 1990s, gender history and queer history began to develop – approaches which focused more on tracing how modern sexualities and gendered identity categories had come into being.

Seminar questions:

  • Why and how had women and/or sexuality been excluded from traditional history writing, and deemed inappropriate topics for 'serious' historians?
  • Why was history so important for the women’s and gay liberation movements?
  • What is the difference between women’s history and gender history? What does it mean to write feminist histories?
  • What is the difference between gay history and queer history?
  • What are the political implications of historians approaching gender identity as socially constructed and historically contingent rather than fixed, innate and natural?

Core readings:

Sheila Rowbotham, Introduction to Hidden From History: 300 Years of Women's Oppression and the Fight Against It (1975)

George Chauncey, Jr., Martin Duberman & Martha Vicinus, ‘Introduction’, in Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus & George Chauncey, Jr. (eds.), Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (1991)


Catherine Hall, White, Male and Middle Class: Explorations in Feminism and History (Routledge, 1992), Ch “Feminism and Feminist History”


Joan Scott, ‘The Evidence Of Experience’ Critical Inquiry 17:4 (Summer, 1991), 773-797

Further Readings:

H.G. Cocks and Matt Houlbrook, The Modern History of Sexuality (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) [a useful overview for the whole module]

G. Bock, ‘Women’s History and the History of Gender: Aspects of an International Debate’, Gender and History, 1 (1989)

J. Scott, Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’, The American Historical Review, 91:5 (Dec, 1986), 1053-1075

L.L. Downs, ‘From Women’s History to Gender History’, in S. Berger, H. Feldner and K. Passmore (eds.)., Writing History: Theory and Practice (2003)

Jeffrey Weeks, Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain from the Nineteenth Century to the Present (1977)

Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman (1996)

Susan Striker, ‘My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix’, GLQ 1:3 (1994)

Joanne Meyerowitz’s How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States (2002)

Deborah G. White, Ar’n’t I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (1985)

Glenda Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina (1996)

Catherine Clinton, The Plantation Mistress (1982)

Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly’ Englishman and the ‘Effeminate’ Bengali in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester University Press, 1995)

Cathy Cohen, The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (1999)