The loneliness of the feminist historian

By Ann McGrath


Feminist historians in Australia have achieved the critical mass that means that they no longer need to be the sole woman's voice pleading to get women into the history corridors and inside the books. By looking back at recent history reflexively, this article celebrates the achievement of feminist historians over the past four decades in making profound impacts on mainstream historical writing and understanding. Engaging in particular with the work of feminist historians Joan Scott and Joy Damousi, ‘The Loneliness of the Feminist Historian’ considers whether feminist history has a future. It also reflects upon the author's memories of the feminist history movement from the 1970s and 1980s—its aims, its achievements and its significant successes, especially compared with other social science disciplines. It explains how certain ‘great (female) historians’ made courageous efforts to internationalise and pluralise feminist history. It also probes the meaning and relevance of ‘professional masculinities’, pointing out that feminist historians were supported by key male historians, who backed them in gaining career and publishing opportunities. Additionally, the challenges of Indigenous scholars led to a sharpening of critical approaches to colonialism. This article argues, however, that feminist historians cannot afford to cling to the excitement of the early conferences of the 1970s and 1980s, for if they expect their practice to thrive, they must constantly critique it, using the most innovative and best tools of our era, including the empirical, the reflexive, the whimsical and the theoretical.

Citation: McGrath, A. (2014). The loneliness of the feminist historian. Australian Feminist Studies, 29 (80), 204-214.

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