"Women's History" in Transition: The European Case

Title"Women's History" in Transition: The European Case
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1976
AuthorsDavis, Natalie Zemon
JournalFeminist Studies
Date Published1976

Various genres of women's history are outlined: (1) the biographies of virtuous women of Plutarch, (2) the collective memorials of Boccaccio in the fourteenth century, (3) the individual biographies of F religious or political luminaries through the seventeenth century, & (4) the social history of eighteenth- & nineteenth-century writers, including the activities of women, or of women & men together, in studies of the laboring poor, prostitution, private law, & customs & rites in marriage. It was gradually realized that the family & relationships between sexes changed over time. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the status, activities, & consciousness of women were being examined. The current transition in women's history is assessed by examining two works: A. Clark's Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century London: Routledge & Sons, 1919) & L. Abensour's La femme et le Feminisme en France avant la Revolution Paris: Editions Ernest Leron, 1923). Their approach to the study of women's history is discussed, then compared to current methods. Clark & Abensour utilized various sources, including archival materials, but they did not use marriage contracts, wills, or parish & hospital records that are reference materials of today's research; they did not refer generally to women, but defined them by social groups; did not assume that laws regarding marriage, guild regulations, informal prescriptions, & rules of social intercourse revealed F behavior; & both evolved theories that accounted for changing relations of women to power, work, & property. More recent trends of study of women's history that Clark & Abensour did not utilize, include: (A) the study of demographic questions, (B) an extention of the study of marriage & family into areas of dowry, inheritance, strength of family sentiment, etc, & (C) the study of women's sexual activity. Today's goal in the study of women's history is much more sweeping & general. Some changes in the practice of the field are still needed: (a) it should be second nature for the historian to consider the consequences of gender, (b) speculation needs to be distinguished from generalization, & (c) it should not be assumed that existing temporal & typological divisions in European history will always be the significant ones for classifying the history of the sexes. G. Simpson.

Short Title"Women's History" in Transition
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