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As Catharine MacKinnon Would Say, “Are Women Human?”

June 17, 2008, 2:15 pm

A blogger who goes under the pseudonym of Mercurius Rusticus has taken it into his head to declare the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians (as well as all fields of study related to women rather than “humans”) marginal, faddish and irrelevant: read about it here. The passage where he heaps scorn on this trendy organization (that first convened in 1930 as a small group of women responding to male exclusion from the professional activities of the AHA, and which held its first major conference in 1973), has been called to our attention by a post at Cliopatria (and folks, it’s a news item, not an endorsement, so if you do visit, do me a favor and don’t trash the messenger.) Rusticus writes:

“It is difficult to think of anything more depressing than a conference of female historians or more irrelevant to the future of the discipline of history. None of these figures has ever appeared in any work on early modern history that I have ever read or is likely to figure on any reading list I see. Historians are and should be concerned with the past of humanity, with men and women, old and young alike: being female is not a prerequisite for such studies and women’s history like the histories of gender, sexuality and the family is a transient, ephemeral phenomenon.”

I guess I have two responses to this. The first is, “Jane, you ignorant slut.” The other is, if women historians in large groups depress you, seek treatment. Also, you need to read more — like, a lot more.

But instead of visiting Miss Mary Rusticus to express outrage, dig this: it’s really great that women historians, not to mention historians of women, gender and sexuality, are so well established that — although our intellectual concerns do sometimes make us the object of derision by people who know very little about what we do — such a comment appears to be a transparent attempt by a new blogger to get some attention. And it’s also really great that many of us, whatever our trials may be, have a lot of good allies, colleagues and intellectual companions who are women and men and who support our work and use it to inform theirs.

Okay Rusticus — you got our attention: now write something interesting that tells us something about what you do know.

And as for the women historians of early modern history, who also write about women, gender, and the family, if you want to start your reading, I have three words for you:

Natalie.
Zemon.
Davis.

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