In what ways has a gendered analysis changed modern historians’ approach to and understanding of the past?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Gendered approaches to history have dramatically changed the ways historians (or at least some historians) work.  Gendered analysis has expanded the range of topics that is considered appropriate to the study of history and it has encouraged historians to look at history in a different way.

Before gendered analysis came to be a part of historiography, most historians focused almost exclusively on a few types of history.  They looked mainly at political, economic, and military history.  They looked at the actions taken by the powerful people in any given society.  History referred to the actions of monarchs, presidents, generals, and captains of industry and the contexts in which those people took those actions.  With gendered analysis, history expanded to consider the doings of the “little people.”  In particular, history expanded to look at the role of women.  This goes beyond looking for female inventors or rulers to looking at the way life was experienced by average women.  I once had a retired history professor tell me that he never wanted to see another journal article on topics like “birthing practices in Colonial America.”  His frustration was the frustration of an old-school historian who did not like the range of topics that were treated as relevant by historians interested in a gendered analysis.

Beyond expanding the range of historical topics, gendered analysis encourages historians to look at history in a different way.  In the past, the actions of historical figures were simply looked at as normal human actions.  They were not looked at as actions that were affected by the sex or the gender of the actors.  The way that males acted was simply the norm and there was no need to think about how those actions were affected by gender.  With gendered analysis, this has changed.  Historians are now much more likely to think about the ways in which people’s gender has affected the ways in which they act.  As the link below discusses at one point, historians now do things like looking at the ways in which Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy can be understood through the lens of gender.

In these ways, gendered analysis expands the range of topics that are subject to historical analysis and it changes the how historians think about the way history has played out.

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