Gender history

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Gender history is a sub-field of history and gender studies, which looks at the past from the perspective of gender. It is in many ways, an outgrowth of women's history. The discipline considers in what ways historical events and periodization impact women differently from men. For instance, in a seminal article in 1977, "Did Women have a Renaissance?", Joan Kelly questioned whether the notion of a Renaissance was relevant to women. [1] Gender historians are also interested in how sexual difference has been perceived and configured at different times and places, usually with the assumption that such differences are socially constructed.


Despite its relatively short life, Gender History (and its forerunner Women's History) has had a rather significant effect on the general study of history. Since the 1960s, when the initially small field first achieved a measure of acceptance, it has gone through a number of different phases, each with its own challenges and outcomes, but always making an impact of some kind on the historical discipline. Although some of the changes to the study of history have been quite obvious, such as increased numbers of books on famous women or simply the admission of greater numbers of women into the historical profession, other influences are more subtle, even though they may be more politically groundbreaking in the end.

Within the profession[edit]

According to historian Joan Scott, conflict occurred between Women's History historians and other historians in a number of ways.[2] In the American Historical Association, when feminists argued that female historians were treated unequally within the field and underrepresented in the association, they were essentially leveling charges of historical negligence by traditional historians. Notions of professionalism were not rejected outright, but they were accused of being biased.

Supplementary history[edit]

According to Scott, the construction of Women's History as "supplementary" to the rest of history had a similar effect. At first glance, a supplement simply adds information which has been missing from the greater story, but as Scott points out, it also questions why the information was left out in the first place. Whenever it is noticed that a woman found to be missing from written history, Women's History first describes her role, second, examines which mechanisms allowed her role to be omitted, and third, asks to what other information these mechanisms were blind.

Gender theory[edit]

Finally, the advent of gender theory once again challenged commonly held ideas of the discipline, including those scholars studying Women's History. Post-modern criticism of essentialising socially constructed groups, be they gender groups or otherwise, pointed out the weaknesses in various sorts of history. In the past, historians have attempted to describe the shared experience of large numbers of people, as though these people and their experiences were homogeneous and uniform. Women have multiple identities, influenced by any number of factors including race and class, and any examination of history which conflates their experiences, fails to provide an accurate picture.

Men's history[edit]

Men's history emerged as a specialty in the 1990s, evidenced by numerous studies of men in groups, and how concepts of masculinity shape their values and behavior. Gail Bederman identified two approaches: one that emerged from women's history and one that ignored it:

Two types of ‘men’s history’ are being written these days. One builds on twenty years of women’s history scholarship, analyzing masculinity as part of larger gender and cultural processes. The other . . . looks to the past to see how men in early generations understood (and misunderstood) themselves as men. Books of the second type mostly ignore women’s history findings and methodology.[3]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Riley, Denise. “Am I That Name?” Feminism and the Category of “Women” in History. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.
  • Rose, Sonya O. What is Gender History?. Malden, Mass.: Polity Press, 2010.
  • Scott, Joan Wallach. Gender and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
  • Zemon Davis, Natalie. “ ‘Women’s History’ in Transition: The European Case.” Feminist Studies 3, no. 3–4 (1976):

Men's history[edit]

  • Dierks, Konstantin. "Men’s History, Gender History, or Cultural History?" Gender & History 14 (2002): 147–51
  • Ditz, Toby L. "The New Men’s History and the Peculiar Absence of Gendered Power: Some Remedies from Early American Gender History," Gender & History 16 (2004): 1-35
  • Dorsey, Bruce. "A Man's World: Revisiting Histories of Men and Gender." Reviews in American History 40#3 (2012): 452-458. online
  • Gorn, Elliott J. The Manly Art–Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America (1986)
  • Griswold, Robert L. Fatherhood in America: A history (1993)
  • Rotundo, E. Anthony. American manhood: Transformations in masculinity from the Revolution to the modern era (1993). excerpt
  • Traister, Bryce. "Academic Viagra: The Rise of American Masculinity Studies," American Quarterly 52 (2000): 274–304 in JSTOR


  1. ^ "Did Women have a Renaissance?" Becoming Visible: Women in European History. Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
  2. ^ "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," American Historical Review 91, No. 5 (December 1986).
  3. ^ . Gail Bederman, Journal of American History 84 (1997) p. 680

External links[edit]