History 246 Reading Guide

English and European Heritage:  Gender and Patriarchy

  • Joan Scott, “Gender:  A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American Historical Review 91.5 (1986), 1053-71.  JSTOR
  • Gerda Lerner, “Definitions,” The Creation of Patriarchy (1986).  Notes

Further reading:

  • Gerda Lerner, “Definitions,” in Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (1986), 230-242.

In the historiographical overview that I outlined in the introduction, I described a moment in the mid-1980s when the scholarship in women’s history began to shift from description to analysis. Scott’s article was pivotal in that moment. Yet, compared to most of the assigned readings for this course, Joan Scott’s article is atypical. Where other readings focus on a particular topic in a specific historical context and provide both description and analysis, Scott offers a theoretical, analytical perspective about the study of women in history, broadly conceived.

As you read this dense article, take note of the point (or points) where her discussion stumps you (if it does) and the point (or points) where you get drawn into her discussion. What methods did you use to try to make sense of what she was arguing?

  • According to Scott, why is it important to have a concept—gender—to describe and analyze women’s situation in history?
  • What warnings does she offer about limitations of other theoretical approaches to analyzing gender?
  • What does treating gender as an independent analytic category enable us to see and understand about the history of women?
  • Is gender the only analytic category that we need to consider in this course?