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Hispanic American Historical Review 81.3-4 (2001) 449-490

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The History of Gender in the Historiography of Latin America

Sueann Caulfield

Writing in 1972, Ann Pescatello bemoaned the underdevelopment of Latin American women's studies, a field so much in its infancy that it was difficult to identify major trends and authors, much less conduct research. 1 Seven years later, Asunción Lavrin observed that historians still lagged behind social scientists in filling in the gaps and pointed out directions that Latin American women's history might take. 2 Scholars have since followed the paths Lavrin indicated, provoking a steady flow in work that focuses on women, and since the mid-1980s, and a great surge of studies that use gender as a category of analysis. Twenty-odd years after Lavrin's prophetic essay, the field that she and a small group of Latin American and Latin Americanist colleagues pioneered is again exceedingly difficult to review. The problem now, however, is the large quantity of significant work, the variety of topics, theoretical approaches and methodologies, and the multiple ways in which this scholarship has influenced how we understand Latin American history.

This essay will not attempt to cover all of these topics, approaches and methods, much less all of the significant works in the field. It will leave to a future historian, for instance, the task of evaluating whether gender analysis has moved "from margin to center" in the ways historians have integrated it, or at least mentioned it, in studies that do not specifically focus on gender or [End Page 449] women. 3 Although this trend is as significant as the outpouring of publications with "gender" in the title (or, more commonly, in the subtitle), this essay will be largely limited to what I consider exemplary and representative studies that use gender as a primary, or at least major, tool of analysis.

Emphasis on books in which gender is a primary analytical category brings with it a second limitation: a focus on scholarship published in the United States, where over the past six years there has been a torrent of monographs that deal primarily with gender. Gender analysis has not been as central a concern in the different national historiographies in Latin America. This is despite the existence of an extraordinarily rich and broad-ranging Latin American scholarship on the kinds of topics that are especially attractive to gender historians, such as the family, sexuality, and racial or ethnic mixture, as well as a wealth of literature on women's roles in labor, politics, and everyday life. The analytical methods that Latin American scholars bring to these topics are diverse, emerging as they do from national and local historiographies with their own trajectories and different relationships to North American and European scholarship. This is not to say that Latin American work is more provincial than that produced outside the region. On the contrary, Latin American scholars, especially those who work in the larger nations (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mexico) with well-developed research centers, including centers dedicated to research on women or gender, are vigorous participants in international scholarly dialogues. Recent multivolume collections on the history of private life in Brazil or the history of mentalities in Mexico, with obvious reference to French literature in these areas, are good illustrations of the different placement of topics and issues that would certainly undergo more explicit gender analysis--and the works might well include "gender" in the titles--if published in the United States. 4 [End Page 450]

The best of the scholarship produced in the United States both builds on the respective national historiography and participates in an international dialogue. Yet, as Mary Kay Vaughan has noted in her recent essay on the "new" cultural history in Mexico, there is a lamentable lack of dialogue between U.S. and Latin American scholars. 5 North American scholars rely upon Latin American empirical research, which is frequently "incorporated" into U.S. theoretical and scholarly agendas, not vice versa. Latin Americans, for their part, do not generally view "Latin...


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