Bonnie Smith’s damning conclusion to The Gender of History has been much on my mind lately. I quoted a long-ish excerpt from her peroration in this post a few weeks back, so for now I’ll just zero in on the most nettlesome couple of sentences:
The historian of historiography, which is virtually all male, seldom shares the stage with a woman; rather, he is fortified by epigones admiring his laws and making him a ‘star,’ fraternal clusters who think of contesting them, and still others who will analyze the agon in terms of historical movement through serial or even postmodern time. Whether produced by his facts, the range of his historiographic reach, or his flights of theory, this imposing construct of male subjectivity (albeit with new demands for public performance and new calls to meet the challenge of powerful women, themselves increasingly cast as phallic maternal rivals) continues to function as the centerpiece for an increasingly difficult historical epistemology.
Some readers may wonder, 1) Is she right? 2) Even if she’s right, is her conclusion really all that damning?
I have wondered this myself, and I’m still puzzling over it.
As Jeremy Popkin points out in his very excellent single-volume survey of historical writing, From Herodotus to H-Net, historiography is actually a species of intellectual history. Historiography concerns itself with the way in which historians have conceived of the task of historical writing and how those conceptions have changed over time. So if historiography remains an overwhelmingly masculine preserve, and if this is a problem, this is a problem not just for history in general but for intellectual history in particular.