New debates have arisen over the creation of a National Women’s History Museum in the US. The bipartisan commission working in support of the initiative have gained ground in recent weeks, and the idea first conceived in 1995 might soon be a reality.
“We have to do everything we can to turn this dream into a reality. . . . How can we empower the next generation if we don’t tell them the whole story?” — Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)
As a graduate student in a master’s degree program in American history, I balked at women’s history. I purposefully steered clear of courses that centered on women and gender and, sadly, my master’s thesis was virtually devoid of women actors. Why? I refused to be just another female historian studying “women’s issues.” (The one project excepted was a directed independent study I designed on women and cooperative extension services in 20th century North Carolina.)
Thank goodness that has changed. Over time my interests have diversified and my personal politics have matured. I have embraced an inclusive feminism that reminds me that, not only do I have a voice, but I can be a part of giving voice to women’s experiences in the past. Perhaps, it’s also the realization that women’s issues are human issues. I’m happy to say that I am doing everything I can to make women a central part of my own research on Scottish families in migration.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the OIEAHC’s 2017 annual conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The conference program was a good one, making it hard to decide which panels to attend. It was also refreshing to see so many awesome early career and senior women researchers taking part — a panel on the American Revolution consisted entirely of #womenalsonnowhistory! On 16 June I sat in on “Revolutionary Lives: Biography in an Age of Transformation” whose panelists approached their studies of vast early America through the medium of biography.
During the Q&A, Ann Little (Historiann) remarked on the overwhelming absence of women actors in the featured histories. A few wives and daughters had been mentioned, but none were treated as central to the narrative. Does the inclusion of women as key historical players delegitimize the histories of men? No. It can only complement and add complexity and richness to our understanding of the past. Despite the (more often than not) dearth of primary sources attributed to women, many wonderful historians are using their research skills to uncover the lives of countless women whose stories remain untold and unexamined. The question is, will we meet the challenge?
“Even if the American Museum of Women’s History never becomes reality, the report highlights the need for the nation at large to better document, collect, and celebrate evidence of the achievements and history of women.” — Erin Blakemore
Follow updates on the NWHM on Twitter: @womenshistory