Question of the Month

Jesse George-Nichol's picture
Welcome to our Question of the Month series, which we hope will launch robust discussions about research, pedagogy, and practice in the study of women and gender in the U.S. South.  We also hope that subscribers from all backgrounds and at all stages of their careers will share ideas, insights, questions, and resources--just click the 'Post a Reply' button to join the conversation! 
To kick things off, we'd like to discuss the direction of the field.  How has the study of women and gender in the U.S. South changed in recent years?  What are some of the most important and interesting trends in scholarship on this topic?
If you have any questions or comments about the series or have any suggestions for our next Question of the Month, please email H-SAWH editor Jesse George-Nichol (  This series will also post to H-SAWH's Twitter feed at @HNetSAWH.

Hello everyone,

As something of an "old-timer" I have seen a lot of changes in women's history. While it was already established as a field of study by the time I came along, most publications were still in the narrative stage, and still about women. By about twenty years ago, most publications had moved to societal analysis, studying various times and places by looking at the status of women. Starting then, but getting more and more important about ten years ago was the inclusion of gender. Analysis deepened, became more inclusive regarding race and class. There were a lot of really interesting works published that deepened the concept of gender. Most recently, the study of gender and gendered relations have, for some, become political, more activist than strictly academic. I can't say that I have contributed much to this but I certainly have enjoyed reading and teaching these ideas.
I would like to see others list some of their favorite works, especially those that changed the way we think about women's and gender history.

Jean--thank you so much for getting things rolling on this topic. Piggybacking off of Jean’s response, I’d like to add that in the move away from narrative history there has been a push to use gender as an analytical tool and take seriously the ways in which women and gender shaped history.
I appreciate Jean’s suggestion that we share favorite and/or influential works as a way of exploring this evolution in the field. As someone who is interested in the coming of the Civil War, I will throw LeeAnn Whites’ essay “The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender” into the mix as an important early work showing how diverging ideas about gender contributed to sectional alienation and ultimately civil war. In Masters of Small Worlds Stephanie McCurry also made a groundbreaking argument about the centrality of masculinity to the success of the secession movement. But there are too many to choose from—I look forward to hearing from others!

Kathryn Braund’s “Guardians of Tradition and Handmaidens to Change: Women's Roles in Creek Economic and Social Life during the Eighteenth Century” and everything by Theda Perdue (but esp. Cherokee Women) were eye opening for me. Both placed gender at the forefront of the biggest issues in the Native South and helped me rewrite the questions I wanted to ask.

Thanks to Jesse and Jean for kicking us off! On the issue of gender analysis and the Civil War, I'll recommend an excellent and brand new essay by Michele Gillespie called "Testing Our Mettle: Women's and Gender History in the Battle over the Civil War." It's in the forthcoming collection Sisterly Networks: Fifty Years of Southern Women's Histories, edited by Catherine Clinton and tied to the SAWH's 50th Anniversary celebration. I've been lucky enough to get a sneak peek and can say with confidence that SAWH folks will both enjoy and value this book.

Proceeds will support the SAWH, and there's a discount code for orders placed by August 31 in the most recent SAWH newsletter, which you can find here:

Take a look, and also stay tuned for info on a book release roundtable that will be part of the e-SHA in November.

All of the essays in Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber's Divided Houses (1992) were game changers in Civil War history. Along with the books that came out of those essays, this volume transformed how scholars have explored the Civil War Era. They gendered the war and made it something larger than soldiers and battles. I can not think of another anthology that has had this type of impact on a field. More recently, the essays in LeeAnn Whites and Alecia Long's Occupied Women (2009) further developed these themes and pushed the field further.