Teaching Women's History K-12 Discussion/March 1998


Query From Debra Schneider debschne@uclink4.berkeley.edu 03 Mar 1998

I am a grad student at UCBerkeley, writing a qualifying paper about the challenges created for K-12 teachers by the debate between "old" and "new" history. For example, while academic historians are writing more about women's history, when K-12 teachers teach from this perspective, they are asked, "Why are you wasting time on this topic?" or "Why do we need to know about her?" I have read Gary Nash and Peter Stearns and Lawrence Levine on the subject, but wonder what WOMEN are writing on this topic? I'd appreciate any of your suggestions.

Responses:

From Heidi Campbell-Shoaf hcampbell@dar.org 05 Mar 1998

Your question reminded me of my first semester of MA courses. It was a requirement in the history department to either take historical methods or historiography. As I was new and unfamiliar with the peculiarities of the faculty, I chose historiography - little did I know it was being taught by an old school, openly misogynist (would not accept female TA's) professor. Each student was required to meet with him to discuss her/his plans for graduate study and the topics she/he wished to pursue. When I met with him, a nervous student right out of undergrad, he asked what I planned to study. When I told women's history, particularly 19th century American women, he replied, "Why would you want to do that. What did they ever do?" (Thesis was 1990.) I was dumbfounded and stumbled around with an answer. He then went on with a monologue about his mother and aunts raising him in 1920s and the depression era New York City, oblivious to the fact that he had answered his own question. I am confident he was not giving me a craftily composed illustration of the value of social history; he had a propensity for long-winded stories about himself that did not relate in the least to the subject matter being discussed. Thankfully he has retired, but I always think of this experience when I hear of people disparaging the study of women's history. My view is that history does not occur in a vacuum. Events affect people, and vice-versa, (not just white men, but women and people of color as well) and the reaction of those people to events create the society of the time. For example, we all know about Sherman's march to the sea and the hardships of his army as they moved further and further away from their supply trains. The story would be incomplete if we did not look at the people affected by the march: the women, children and elderly in his path and the slaves made free by the passing army. This makes a complete history. This is the use of women's history.

From Jenny Lloyd jlloyd@acspr1.acs.brockport.edu 05 Mar 1998

In response to what women are saying about teaching women's history K-12, the most recent issue of the Journal of Women's History (Autumn 1997) has a section on the National History Standards and women's history, with 6 contributors: Christie Farnham, Barbara Moss, Virginia S. Wilson, Helga H. Harriman, Joan Hoff and Joan Scott.

From Mary Beth Norton mbn1@cornell.edu 05 Mar 1998

See the discussion of women and American political history in my essay, "Rethinking American History Textbooks" in Lloyd Kramer, et al, eds., _Learning History in America_(Minneapolis: U of Minn Press, 1994).

I have also written the lead essay on precisely this topic (why studying women is important in the forthcoming (March) issue of "History Matters!", a newsletter of the National Council for History Education, of which I am a trustee. You can reach the NCHE office in Cleveland and request a copy via email: nchel19@mail.idt.net

Incidentally, you could also *join* the organization (dues are nominal), which is working to bring academic historians and K-12 teachers together to improve the teaching of history at the elementary and secondary levels. It's a great cause and you'll receive the newsletter every month.

From Maria Elena Raymond M_Raymond@compuserve.com 03 April 1998

Debra,
Please check out the H-Women website under "discussion threads". I know the list members have discussed the matter of people disparaging women's history. You might find something there which will help. Also try the bibliography section. Best wishes.