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    A Re-analyzed, Re-shaped, and Developed Perspective on Gender History

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    In writing a historical narrative, it is easy for the historian to fall into a singular view and perspective of a given historical event their own. Due to historians being nearly exclusively male, up until the modern era, a vacuum was created lacking perspective and understanding of the view of women. Gender history challenged these traditional narratives by inserting the perspective of women into these historical events. By analyzing how certain events affected women, one comes to realize how the preeminent understanding of many historical events is only discussed from the perspective of half of the population affected, and sometimes less than that.

    Time periods, like the Renaissance, often spoken about in high regard for humanity’s seeming progress, are reanalyzed in this new light. People, whose opinions and interests were belittled and sidelined because they were not the same as the historian’s, are now brought to the forefront and their perspective is considered. In light of this new view, the reader’s own understanding of a given historical event is reanalyzed, reshaped, and, hopefully, enriched and developed.

    Joan Kelly Gadol’s historiographical essay, “Did Women Have a Renaissance?”, is a good example of this sort of reanalysis of a historical event through the eyes of those previously silenced. The Renaissance, as it’s very name implies, was the revival of art and literature and, in line with that, brought about a seeming revival of culture and progress as humanity exited the “dark ages”. Gadol argues instead that the time period known as the “Renaissance” was only a progression for men. The history regarding that time period, having been written down largely by men, makes sweeping generalizations for society as a whole when, in fact, women’s freedom was abridged, and their power constrained. The Renaissance can hardly be considered the revival and progression of humanity it is billed as when it is discussed from a women’s point of view.

    “The startling fact is that women as a group…….experienced a contraction of social and personal options that men…did not” (Gadol 139). Writing this sort of new historical narrative does come with limitations. Due to the fact that primary sources and prior historical narratives were written and/or compiled by men, these gender histories depend on the same sources and evidence as the traditional narratives written before. The conclusions that can feasibly be derived from these sources is limited to what is allowed by the sources used.

    Gadol acknowledges that point. However, since the historical narratives discuss how women were viewed by society, (i.e. divine, pure, virginal, etc.), one can derive some understanding of a women’s perspective and the effect such a societal view of women had on women’s power and freedom. That being said, the approach taken by gender historians would not measure up to the scientific history approach advanced by Leopold von Ranke.

    Ranke’s historical approach focused on the state as the primary agent of change and action with a heavy dependence on primary sources as evidence for any assertions made. Gender history can’t focus on the state as the primary agent of change because, by and large, women were often removed from the explicitly political roles of the state throughout most of the history.

    More importantly, however, gender history does require some liberties to be taken with the sources used. Since many of the conclusions of gender history require inference and ‘reading between the lines’ of a primary source whose bias is directly contrary to gender historians, the evidentiary standard is lower than the one upheld by Ranke’s ‘scientific history’. That being said, gender history is not necessarily less objective than other historical approaches. Gender history does not make up history but, rather, brings to light the perspective of those effected by known historical events and facts. Inference and causal analysis, not conjecture, are the bedrock of gender history.

    The consideration of each gender’s experience of historical events truly does matter in the writing of history and is consequential for humanity’s understanding of history. For example, the preeminent periodization of human history is based on male-written historical narratives. If what Gadol argues is true, that women did not have a renaissance, then what is that time period to be considered? If half of humanity faced a regression of power and freedom, can it really be presented as it is today? With regards to political norms, if Elaine Tyler May’s analysis in “Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era” regarding the post-war baby boom is true, then what affect does that new understanding of recent history have on the national political discourse?

    In other words, when setting policies based on historical precedent, what affect does a new understanding of history have on such policies? With regards to society, if society’s collective understanding of history ignores the perspective of at least half of the people who lived through a given time, is not society truly ignorant to most of the historical human experience? Most of these questions remain without an answer because, by and large, the women’s perspective of much of history has not been written and, in many cases, couldn’t be written due to a lack of evidence and information.

    Gender historians’ narratives attempt to rectify the societal wrongs committed against half of the population. By regarding as inconsequential or, worse, outright ignoring the perspective of women, humanity’s understanding of history is lacking. More importantly, however, society’s ignorance of the experience of all these disregarded people is a twisted statement that somehow these people’s lives didn’t matter. Writing history from the perspective of women, but also of other people who were ignored in the past, is not only a pioneering academic endeavor, it is a necessity for justice and truth.

    Every person’s life matters and therefore it is important to consider how the entirety of society experienced historical events. Moreover, if humanity is to avoid the mistakes of the past, it must understand the full and unabridged facts of history with the interests of everyone involved fully considered.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    A Re-analyzed, Re-shaped, and Developed Perspective on Gender History. (2023, Mar 12). Retrieved from

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