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The Gender of History

The Gender of History

Men, Women, and Historical Practice

Bonnie G. Smith

ISBN 9780674002043

Publication date: 03/01/2000

In this pathbreaking study of the gendering of the practices of history, Bonnie Smith resurrects the amateur history written by women in the nineteenth century--a type of history condemned as trivial by "scientific" male historians. She demonstrates the degree to which the profession defined itself in opposition to amateurism, femininity, and alternative ways of writing history. The male historians of the archive and the seminar claimed to be searching for "genderless universal truth," which in reality prioritized men's history over women's, white history over nonwhite, and the political history of Western governments over any other. Meanwhile, women amateurs wrote vivid histories of queens and accomplished women, of manners and mores, and of everyday life.

Following the profession up to 1940, The Gender of History traces the emergence of a renewed interest in social and cultural history which had been demeaned in the nineteenth century, when professional historians viewed themselves as supermen who could see through the surface of events to invisible meanings and motives. But Smith doesn't let late twentieth-century historians off the hook. She demonstrates how, even today, the practice of history is propelled by fantasies of power in which researchers imagine themselves as heroic rescuers of the inarticulate lower classes. The professionals' legacy is still with us, as Smith's extraordinary work proves.


  • It is the continuing evolution and mutation of postmodernist feminist history, and thus history itself, that we are now witnessing...The Gender of History is a useful introduction to this new mode of history...It is also ingenious enough to compel attention and, sometimes, admiration, as a sheer exercise of mind and fancy...Smith here undertakes to rescue, from the condescension of professional history, the thousands of women "amateurs" who, from the end of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth, plied their trade, writing about such "trivial", "superficial", "inferior" subjects (in the opinion of men) as queens and ladies-in-waiting, travel, culture and social life.

    —Gertrude Himmelfarb, Times Literary Supplement


  • Bonnie G. Smith is Professor of History at Rutgers University.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press