Letters to the Editor

Gender and History

Norman B. Ferris, January 1998

To the Editor:

Upon scanning the program for the 112th annual meeting of the AHA I could not help observing that the word "gender" appears in the titles of at least fifteen sessions and the word "women" is to be found in the titles of thirteen more. There are besides a considerable number of allusions to race and sex. All of this, I believe, tends to create an impression that the members of the Association most active in scholarship are interested primarily in feminist issues.

When, however, one turns to the publishers' advertisements offering their most important historical works for sale, one finds only a handful of gender-oriented books listed there. The discrepancy speaks for itself. Too many historians are trying to build resumes largely based upon short convention papers, regarding which the opportunity to deliver is obtained more by networking than by having something significant to say, while the relentless exhausting pursuit of numerous archival and manuscript sources to sustain momentous new knowledge or theories about history appears less frequently in AHA programs than in former times. I realize that there is much pressure on junior members of the profession to demonstrate competence off campus. But is the thinking and research of so many of them really so narrowly focused? If so, I feel sympathy for their students.

—Norman B. Ferris
Professor Emeritus, Middle Tennessee State University