More than 30 years after Joan Scott first argued for gender as a legitimate and necessary category of analysis, many of us take for granted the notion that AHA annual meetings can offer spaces for more expansive scholarship. Returning to Scott’s work serves as a reminder that gender history was never interchangeable with an “add women and stir” approach to the field. “The core of the definition,” Scott argued, “rests on an integral connection between two propositions: gender is a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes, and gender is a primary way of signifying relations of power.” At AHA19, it is these elements of Scott’s foundational proposition that are on the table in sessions that interrogate the very conditions of our profession, as a full inquiry into gender requires.
Over four days in Chicago, historians will find a diverse slate of discussions that center histories of women and gender. Just a brief scan of the AHA19 conference program reveals numerous panel sessions and affiliated societies addressing gender across time and space. Historians from around the globe will present new research on topics addressing gender and all of its complexities in wide ranging sites—from the British Civil Wars to recent Puerto Rican history, the black diaspora to the streets of Progressive-era cities. The Mexican Studies Committee of the Conference on Latin American History will be meeting to take stock of gender Friday evening; in its open forum, the AHA Committee on LGBTQ Status in the Profession will examine the relationship between history and gender studies. The program suggests that the state of our subfield is vibrant, reflecting the aspirations of the AHA’s Committee on Gender Equity, whose purview includes fostering “an inclusive scholarship that challenges and transforms the practice of history, both substantially and methodologically.”
Why are so many scholars taking stock of gender history and women in the historical profession now? This new year brings many important anniversaries in US politics and in our profession: the centennial of Congress passing the 19th Amendment, for example, and the 50th anniversaries of the founding of both the Coordinating Council for Women in History (or CCWH, organized in 1969 as the Coordinating Committee of Women Historians in the Profession) and the AHA Committee on Gender Equity (established in 1969 as the ad hocCommittee on the Status of Women). Friday’s session, “Foremothers: Looking Back, Looking Forward,” will be a chance for the CCWH to honor one of its founders, Berenice Carroll, before its anniversary celebrations the next day. On Saturday’s panel, “Creating Careers for Women: Gender and the Historical Profession after 1969,” Committee on Gender Equity chair Susan Kent will join university-based historians to reflect on a half-century of changes in academia, suggesting that the hiring of women changed the university workplace, and discussing why a university integrated by both gender and race matters to other kinds of commitments including publicly engaged scholarship, the transformation of curriculum, reimagining hiring norms, and the creation of new knowledge.
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