- Journal of Women’s History at 25:The Anniversary Issue
Quite often, when we reflect on the field of women’s history and how it has developed over time, we use what the feminist scholar Clare Hemmings calls “progress narratives.”1 That is, we say that women’s history used to be all about white middle-class women, but now we are attentive to race, ethnicity, class, and other differences. Or we say that women’s history used to be dominated by scholarship on the United States, but now we attend to other places and think comparatively and transnationally. Or we say that women’s history used to be relentlessly empirical and atheoretical, but now we have incorporated the insights of poststructuralism, intersectionality, and gender theory. This twenty-fifth anniversary issue gives us the opportunity to reflect on the trajectory of women’s history, not from the beginning, whenever that might have been, but certainly since the first issue of the Journal of Women’s History in 1989.
In addition to this celebration of the Journal’s first twenty-five years, we are happy to announce that a history of the JWH, researched and written by Jennifer Tomas, will be available online at http://journalofwomenshistory.org. Tomas received her PhD from Binghamton University in 2012, and her dissertation, “Creating a Paradigm Shift in the Field of American History: Building U.S. Women’s History, 1952–1990,” made her a perfect candidate for the JWH history project. A web article, key documents, and video interviews with JWH founders, editors, and officers complement the articles in this issue.
So let us begin at the beginning. Volume 1, issue 1, coedited by the founders, Christie Farnham and Joan Hoff, featured an article on Cherokee women; an article on conceptualizing the history of women in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East; a report on women’s history and feminism in China; reviews of teaching packets for integrating women’s history into courses on the Third World; and responses to a theoretical and methodological reflection, from the perspective of French feminism, on women’s culture and women’s power. The remaining two issues in volume 1 included articles on African American women and working-class history; on India, Iran, Argentina, Chile, and South Africa; and on Third World historiography, socialist-feminist U.S. women’s history, and reconceptualizing differences among women. In other words, the issues were not all about white middle-class women, did not focus exclusively on the United States, and were not atheoretical (although the statement of purpose in the first issue did critique the “problematic tendency for [End Page 9] research on women to become increasingly relativistic and apolitical under the influence of poststructuralism”).
Looking back at the first volume is a useful reminder that the Journal of Women’s History from the beginning sought to recognize differences among women, to take a global view, and to open discussion of different theoretical perspectives. We reflect here, then, on the ways that women’s history has developed in the years since the Journal saw the light of day.
This issue begins with a conversation about the relationship between radical history and women’s history, bringing together scholars from across generations and fields of women’s history. Launched via email and continued at a session co-sponsored by Radical History Review and JWH at the American Historical Association conference in 2012, the conversation addresses the radical origins of women’s history and raises questions about where it is today. The reflections of the participants remind us that the best women’s history has always woven together the threads of individual lives, collective action, and large-scale forces. And that women’s history began with an agenda: to analyze the past in order to understand the present and work toward a better future.
The rest of the issue consists of articles we solicited on thematic and national or regional areas of women’s history, along with articles that deal with the various ways in which women’s history reaches beyond the university. We asked scholars to think about the...