- Why Women Also Know History
"Women Also Know Stuff. Does that sound obvious? It's not, alas." In early 2016 a group of women political scientists announced in The Washington Post their reasons for forming a group called Women Also Know Stuff. The US presidential election dramatically exposed the ongoing imbalance in the consultation and citation of women experts in political discussion.1 The new group was responding directly to media bias, but it has long been clear that bias—not only against women but against people of color, LGBTQ scholars, and other groups—is persistent in academia. The historical profession is no exception.
In the last two decades, women have earned 42 percent of all history PhDs and, according to recently collected data from the American Historical Association (AHA), women have achieved near parity in academic hiring.2 Yet women are underrepresented in citation counts, publishing, hiring, promotion, peer review, grant awards, syllabi, and conference panels—nearly every measure of an academic historian's professional life.3 While recognizing parity in hiring, the AHA simultaneously noted that gender plays an additional "role in the professional experiences of women" in the form of "compensation, tenure decisions, sexual harassment, parental leave policies, and more subtle forms of discrimination [that have] held back women historians for years."4
Public perception and media representation of history and historians both reflect this professional underrepresentation. A Google image search for "historian" in July 2019 retrieved primarily images of white men whose sartorial preferences leaned heavily toward tweed. Journalists disproportionally rely on male experts and fail to seek out and quote women experts. Women's expertise is routinely disregarded, even when they are the primary authors and researchers of the subject in question.5 This dismissal not only means that the public is not seeing or hearing enough from diverse historians, but neither are students or our colleagues.
These are serious and systemic issues that require a multi-pronged approach. One possibility is to take advantage of the online world, already abuzz with efforts to promote the work of underrepresented scholars and draw attention to underutilized expert knowledge. For example, hashtags have proven effective in creating collective syllabi like the #Charleston-Syllabus created by Keisha Blain, Chad Williams, and Kidada Williams in [End Page 113] response to the shooting in South Carolina during a Bible study meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015.6 Crowdsourced syllabi draw together more than a reading list for critical engagement on a particular subject; they also use a hashtag to create and mobilize inclusive communities.
Women Also Know History (WAKH) was born of this online world and founded specifically on the model of Women Also Know Stuff, the initiative created by women political scientists. Women Also Know History is a database where women can create professional profiles so the media and others can locate them for professional inquiries and comments. Women Also Know History is also a social media campaign. Many similar initiatives have followed in Women Also Know Stuff's wake, creating databases, websites, and social media presences in more than a dozen fields that promote the work of women and people of color. This includes the groups: People of Color Also Know Stuff, Women in Sociology Also Know Stuff, and Women+ Do Philosophy. Others, like the LGBT Scholar Network, amplify the work of LGBT scholars across all disciplines on Twitter.
We began Women Also Know History in 2017 with co-founder Keisha N. Blain. The goal of the project is to amplify and support women historians in response to the clear media and professional bias. Despite decades of work by women historians' associations, initiatives for inclusion are more necessary than ever, and social media provides a burgeoning platform for this work. We launched the Women Also Know History Twitter account, @womnknowhistory, in the summer of 2017 as an explicit challenge to the traditional look and sound of historical expertise. The hashtag #ILook-LikeAHistorian drew a huge response, with women historians sharing images of the incredible diversity of women historians and their work. The reaction on social media was immediate and overwhelming because it resonated with women in the...