What 5 history monographs would you take with you to a deserted island? In this monster mini-series, experts offer suggested reading on a particular topic or type of history.
Amanda Herbert is Assistant Professor of History at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, and is the inaugural Molina Fellow in the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California (2015-2016). She is interested in histories of the body and all that it entails: gender and sexuality, the consumption of food and drink, health and healing. She’s the author of Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain, and is currently at work on her second book project, ‘Spa: Faith, Public Health, and Science in the British Atlantic’. She co-edits The Recipes Project, a blog about recent research on historical recipes of all kinds: medical, culinary, magical, and scientific. She’d be delighted if you’d follow her on Twitter @amandaeherbert.
When Joanne Begiato (Bailey) posted her ‘Marooned on an Island’ list on the histories of masculinity at the many-headed monster in June of 2015, I read it right away and with great enthusiasm – there is so much good, important work being done now on manhood and masculinity – but having just written a book on womanhood and femininity, it made me think: what would I put on my own ‘Marooned on an Island’ list? The question is more complicated than you might think. For many years, historians of women have done double-duty. They’ve recovered and reclaimed women’s lives, experiences, voices, and perspectives from the archives. But then many of them have also worked to understand the ways that people in the past defined the characteristics (mental, physical, emotional) of supposedly ideal or ‘normal’ women. Both enterprises share much in common and are of important scholarly value. But their underlying premises are different: women’s history seeks to redress the historic underrepresentation of women; gender history attempts to understand the historic definitions of terms like ‘feminine’ or ‘womanly’, and to determine which authorities decided upon and regulated those terms. Historians of women can choose to pursue one, or both, of these objectives in their work. But I think that it’s important to recognize their distinctions. There’s a certain risk in naturalizing gender difference if we don’t separate women’s experiences from constructions of femininity, but I also hope – especially as gender history continues to develop as a rich, nuanced field – that acknowledging this distinction will encourage more scholars to undertake topics beyond the limiting binary of femininity/women and masculinity/men.
I was therefore delighted when the editors asked me to write a ‘Marooned on an Island’ post on this very topic. In light of my thinking about women’s history and gender history, I set five parameters for myself: 1) the books had to have a significant ‘gender history’ component; e.g., they had to explore the historic definitions of femininity 2) the books had to be substantively (e.g., over half) about femininity; this left out a lot of really smart books comparing masculinity and femininity, but I wanted to give the histories of femininity their due 3) the books had to be histories; literary critics have written excellent books on this topic, but I wanted to foreground my own discipline 4) in keeping with the many-headed monster’s themes, they had to be about early modern Britain and 5) – and this was really the hardest one – the books had to have been written since 2000. I wanted to provide a platform for the newest, most current books out there (fifteen years is actually pretty cutting-edge for historians – check out Karin Wulf’s excellent recent post at The Scholarly Kitchen about the ‘slow digestion rate’ of good history) and I especially wanted to highlight those written by first-time authors. So here we go. Continue reading