- Gender and Transcultural Spaces: New Research in Women’s History
Women’s history has come a long way, not only with regard to its methodological development, from contribution history to gender history, but also regarding its subject matter. Women worthies (a term coined by Gerda Lerner), work, family, the women’s movement, social reform, and political equality all were issues of great research interest to women historians. They uncovered large amounts historical evidence and important empirical and theoretical insights into the various aspects of historical development of society.
However, rarely in all this research did historians on women and gender challenge the boundaries of the geographical and intellectual nation state. The state and the social relations within its boundaries confined them in their in their research agenda. The result of this nation-focused scholarship was that some women, because they moved beyond the nation-state or because their lives quite literally crossed boundaries, fell between the [End Page 203] specialized disciplines of history. However, in the past ten to fifteen years this has changed. Immigrant women are not longer, as Donna Gabaccia had argued in 1991, “nowhere at home.”1 Historians, many of them women, have produced and published large numbers of excellent studies based on empirical evidence that challenge well-wrought historical assumptions.2
However, despite the empirical presence of the new literature on immigrant women we do not yet see the proverbial jump from quantity to quality when it comes to theoretical analysis. Gender is still a marginal category in migration theory and the challenging demands of most recent historiography to move the profession beyond the boundaries of the nation-state have still to find more followers.3 Internationalizing U.S. history, as voiced by Thomas Bender and others, and Margaret Strobel and Marjorie Bingham’s attempts to situate women’s and gender history in the “New World History” are important challenges not just for women’s historians.4
The interest of women and gender historians is moving beyond the thematic confines of national histories and they add substantially to our understanding of imperialism, colonialism, and the comparative aspects of gender, gender roles, and the gendered nature of power relations. The books under review here contribute to our comparative understanding of historiography beyond the nation-state, though the authors have not situated their studies in postcolonial environment (except for Grever and Waaldijk). However, what all these seemingly vastly different studies have in common is that they provide evidence for encounters in transcultural spaces: the migration-induced economic, social, and cultural changes experienced by women in a small town in Sicily; the life trajectories of Korean women in post–World War II Japan; the agency of Italian immigrant women in an environment marked by wage work; the encounters of the Dutch women’s movement with the colonial cultural landscapes at home and the subsequent transformation of areas of public involvement for women; and the many shapes and forms of transnational lives lived by women in the Italian diaspora.
I suggest the concept of transcultural space here to capture the essence of these very different themes/books, and it is introduced to provide a theoretical and methodological...