U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Gender: A Useful Category for Transnational Historical Analysis

If you haven’t already read last month’s forum in the American Historical Review revisiting Joan Scott’s famous 1986 article, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis”, you should. The forum is worth reading not only because of the contributors’ thoughtful essays on the way the category of “gender” has exerted a profound influence on historians but also because it contains some excellent examples of transnational intellectual history.

There are provocative articles on the reception of gender analysis in Eastern Europe (in which philanthropist and conservative bogeyman George Soros plays a surprising role), China, and Latin America. These articles explain how domestic politics, international relations, and national academic traditions have helped shape interpretations of Scott’s work.

Particularly notable in this respect is Heidi Tinsman’s essay, “A Paradigm of our Own: Joan Scott in Latin American History.” Tinsman contends that:

If for many historians of the United States and Europe Scott’s work marked the famous cultural turn, presumably away from social history (its Marxist variants in particular), within Latin American history it was precisely feminist social history that Scott’s work most inspired (much of it engaged with Marxist debates over political culture). [1]

Tinsman grounds the divergent receptions of Scott’s work in the unique (and intertwined) political and social histories of Latin American and the United States during the 1980s. Rejecting notions of “paradigm lag,” Tinsman suggests that American historians may have something to learn from the Latin American approach, which bridges the gap that sometimes exists between practitioners of social and cultural history.

Tinsman’s piece, like Maria Bucur’s on Eastern Europe and Gail Hershatter and Wang Zheng’s on China, not only show how concepts such as “gender” travel but also make us look at their original context in a different light. This is exactly what transnational history should accomplish.


[1] Heid Tinsman, American Historical Review, Dec 2008, Vol. 113 Issue 5, p 1358.

One Thought on this Post

  1. Julian,

    Thanks. That AHR and that forum in particular are on my reading list.

    Perhaps someone should propose a panel for our Nov. 09 USIH conference on how Scott has, or can, influence USIH?

    – TL

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