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  • Imagined Communities:Women's History and the History of Gender in Mexico
  • María Teresa Fernández-Aceves (bio)

The purpose of this paper is not to discuss all, or a large part, of what has been done in the Mexican women and gender historiography since the mid-1970s. My aim instead is to pinpoint the trends in the national academic culture, the most important developments of women's and gender history, mainly in Mexico, recent publications, research policies, and finally, the difficulties in doing transnational history.

In twentieth-century Mexico, trained historians from different academic settings—public and private universities as well as federal and state research centers—have applied diverse perspectives from Marxism to the diverse approaches of the Annales School. In the late 1960s, Luis González y González proposed the development of regional history and microhistory in his study of San José de Gracia, a rural town in western Mexico.1 For González, microhistory referred to the local historical experience that was representative of, or more importantly a contrasting variant of, national narratives. This perspective stimulated and consolidated regional studies of different states, localities, and the revolutionary experience. Recently, Mexican historiography has moved from structural to cultural analyses incorporating the new French cultural history, promoted by Roger Chartier and the proposals of Michel de Certeau about everyday life; the Italian school of microhistory led by Carlo Ginzburg; the German historical sociology of Norbert Elias; and Benedict Anderson's study of nations and nationalism in Imagined Communities.2 However, social history, with its emphasis on structure and class analysis, remains important.

Most Mexican historiography, however, has neglected women and gender. Those who do this work still comprise a small academic ghetto. During the second feminist wave in the 1970s and 1980s some feminist scholars emerged to work in periods from the colony through the Revolution of 1910. They have looked at issues of marriage, sexuality, labor, education, and politics. As elsewhere in the first stages of women's history, Mexican historians have concentrated on demonstrating that women have been historical actors and have raised questions about the traditional periodization that leaves them out.3 In 1987, Julia Tuñón Pablos wrote Mujeres en la historia de México, the first comprehensive and synthetic narrative that incorporated women from Prehispanic times to the twentieth century.4 By using a traditional periodization, Tuñón plotted the different roles ascribed to women and the changing feminine representations and practices. At [End Page 200] the same time, Carmen Ramos Escandón edited Presencia y transparencia: la mujer en la historia de México, another global vision of women in Mexican history. General bibliographies, like El álbum de la mujer, were compiled. In the 1980s, more extensive studies examined convents, sexuality, and education in colonial Mexico; women's culture, roles, and representations; female labor force participation; women and the law in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; women and the Mexican Revolution; and the Mexican woman suffrage campaigns in the 1920s and 1950s.5

In the 1990s, as elsewhere, there has been a move from women's history to gender history. However, a gender perspective in Mexico is still identified mostly with women. Women's and gender history in Mexico have been recognized as historical fields, but the growing literature has not been incorporated into other, more mainstream historical approaches. Most of the time, these studies are read only by specialists on gender. In contrast to the Mexican and feminist historians, Mexicanist scholars from the Anglo world have drawn more upon the linguistic turn.6 Thus, their work is more embedded in feminist theory and poststructuralism. In the United States, these fields have not only been recognized but also incorporated into the academy.

Unlike North American and British feminist scholars, Mexican feminist scholars tend to combine French social history perspectives—private life, everyday life, sexuality, and work—with Anglophone approaches to cultural history and discourse analysis. They cite Michèlle Perrot's, Georges Duby's, and Phillipe Ariès's multivolume works on women's and private life histories; French cultural history; Mexican and Italian microhistory; Norbert Elias's configuration and civilizing processes concepts; and E. P. Thompson's history from...


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pp. 200-205
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