- Tributes, Politics, and Innovations in Women’s and Gender History
We open our first issue for 2014 with two scholarly forums. The first, fittingly, is a personal and scholarly tribute to Gerda Lerner (1920–2013), one of the most influential pioneers in women’s history. She died on January 2, 2013. The other provides a targeted examination of the (mis)uses of historical analogy in the gender politics of the contemporary world. Both of these features bring together historians of women and gender, separated by age, training, and geographic and temporal specialty. Their collective insights are richer than those of a single author alone. These forums are followed by four articles that provide their own methodological and thematic innovations in the field of women’s and gender history. Two of the articles adopt a distinctive—and quite possibly path-finding—approach to understanding the lives of royal and slave women, using methods that foreground sound and fill in silences. The other two articles address the question of how gender analysis rewrites the histories of two important global institutions: the evangelical mission in the nineteenth century and the international labor movement and its transnational feminist components in the interwar era.
Whatever one’s location among the generations of women’s historians, all have been influenced by Gerda Lerner. She was a true pioneer, one who shaped the field from its beginnings in the U.S. academy late in the 1960s, continued to inspire through her many publications over the decades, and trained and mentored several generations of scholars. Her extraordinary influence extends well beyond the university. After her death, U.S. and international media—from mainstream newspapers to such unlikely sources as World Business News to blogs and tweets, photo montages, and videos—all have commemorated her remarkable life and her life’s passion and work: women’s history. We now add our own tribute, “Remembering Gerda Lerner,” a collection of personal and professional recollections of Gerda, as most of our authors affectionately call her. These reminiscences do more than commemorate a great scholar; they also offer keen insights into the constantly evolving field of women’s and gender history. Contributors include Lerner’s colleagues, Kathryn Kish Sklar, Linda Gordon, and Nancy MacLean; former graduate students Leisa Meyer, Nancy Isenberg, Kathy Brown, and Maureen Fitzgerald; and public policy professor Molly Murphy MacGregor, whose collaborations with Lerner helped to institutionalize an annual, nationwide recognition of women’s history. The Journal continues its tribute to Lerner in Sarah King’s web essay, “Gerda Lerner: In Academia [End Page 7] and Online.” Here you also will find an array of links to many sources that document Gerda Lerner’s remarkable scholarship and activism:. http://bingdev.binghamton.edu/jwh/?page_id=1036.
Our second forum, “Historical Analogy, Comparisons, and Evidence: Feminist Reflections” considers an article—Patricia Skinner’s “The Gendered Nose and its Lack: ‘Medieval’ Nose-Cutting and its Modern Manifestations”—inspired by a Time magazine photograph and report of an Afghan woman whose husband cut off her nose for dishonoring him. According to reports about Pashtun custom, the husband had metaphorically “lost his nose” by her actions and exacted retribution. Because the magazine characterized this act of mutilation as “medieval,” Skinner, a medievalist, investigates Western media’s widespread use of the term to condemn the practices of non-Western others, in this case Muslim Afghans. In assessing the historical evidence regarding facial mutilation as punishment, Skinner concludes that such actions were taken for breaches of the “patriarchal values of authority and honor,” which fell most heavily but not exclusively on women. Skinner’s arguments raise critical questions not only about how to use evidence but also what acts can or cannot legitimately be compared over time. The forum includes Susan Mosher Stuard and Bonnie Effros, historians of medieval women. In addition, it features commentary by Lora Wildenthal, a modern German historian whose recent work on human rights engages the often-tense debates about women’s rights and cultural values that divide feminist theorists and activists in the West. The forum concludes with Skinner’s reflections on these comments. It will, we hope, serve as a model for bringing...