Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Have You Ever Asked Yourself..." The Radical Celebrates Snarky Sunday

Why is History News Network's list of Top Young Historians "who are," according to the text accompanying the list "making their mark on the profession" overwhelmingly male? I mean, by 4-1? Now, the list of historians named as having made nominations of notable scholars is also overwhelmingly male (6-1, to be precise), although the accompanying text suggests that these names may only be representative of a larger group. One imagines that these nominations come in over the transom, and that HNN is not fully responsible for this apparent discrimination. But one also does not know.

Broad minded person that I am, and so loathe to blame my friends at HNN for this, that I have tried to think through the Top Ten Reasons for a gender discrepancy in this list of notables, a discrepancy that far outweighs the number of women actually employed as academic historians in the United States. To wit:

1. More men than women are nominating people for this list, and people tend to try to prop up the interests of their own gender.

2. Women nominate candidates, but their nominations are not terribly notable, so neither they or their nominations were listed.

3. Men generally engage in scholarly dialogue of various kinds with other men, and so they miss the notable scholarship published by women.

4. The work of men is, objectively speaking, more significant to the profession of history than the work of women.

5. Men think women are kind of dumb. Or generally dumber than men, with one or two exceptions.

6. Women are, in fact, not very smart.

7. Women are smart enough, but don't make the impact that men do on the rest of the historical profession.

8. Women are lazy and do not pay attention to getting female candidates named to lists of notables.

9. Women have better things to do than nominate people for these awards, whereas men do not, and men sit in their offices all day nominating each other.

10. Sexism.

Go figure, dear reader: and don't snap back that this feature is edited by a woman, ok? I know that. Furthermore, in the interests of full disclosure, let me say that HNN links Tenured Radical, both in its blogroll and in Ralph Luker's Cliopatra, which makes me feel notable, at least.

For ways of becoming informed on these, and other feminist issues in the historical profession, see Hesse et. al., The Report on the Hiring of Women and Minority Historians, written for the AHA; also an AHA report on gender equity by Lewis et. al. at the Committee for Women Historians (CWH), and the 2005 CWH document on the Status of Women in the Historical Profession, otherwise known as the Lunbeck Report.


Anonymous said...

I've wondered about the very idea of "top historian of the week". Who needs it? What good does it do to keep pushing the culture of stardom in the academy except for inflating the egos of those who are listed?

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

TR: Thanks for pointing out this disparity. Another possibility is that focusing on (relatively) "young" historians disadvantages women, who are more likely than men to put their careers on hold for partners or family (both before and after tenure). That can't be the whole story, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a factor.

I wonder too whether the selection process favors historians who work in areas like political and intellectual history that tend to attract more men than women. My quick review of the list gives me the impression that most of the women featured, like Judith Surkis, Leslie Butler, Beverly Gage, Jane Dailey, Joanne Freeman, Sarah Igo, Jocelyn Olcott, and Heather Cox Richardson, work in one way or another on politics.

Anonymous said...

11. History books are just books. You can't see whether or not the author has elegant cheekbones or a nice rack. So who needs chicks?

Women might fare better in a televised America's Next Top Historian contest. I nominate the Radical to take Tyra's place as host(ess).

Anonymous said...

Awesome post!

I'm with anonymous - why have a list like this at all? There's something about its very premise that really bugs me, and the maleness is a big part of it.

(For full disclosure: I know someone on the list, and I'm sure part of the reason I hate such lists is that I'm envious that I'll never be put on such a list.)

Jonathan Dresner said...

Though the presence of women in the younger ranks of the history profession is near parity, the presence of women online -- and HNN is an entirely online publication -- still lags, even in history.

The fact that the nominators are more overwhelmingly male than then nominees (6:1 v. 4:1) suggests that male historians are nominating female historians at least some of the time (assuming, for the moment, that female historians would nominate mostly female historians).

(Full disclosure: I'm an assistant editor at HNN, but have no duties related to the "Top Historians" feature. I'm just thinking out loud and nothing I say in any way reflects the opinions of anyone else at HNN or any sort of official doctrine.)

As an Asianist, there's not a lot of interest for me in the list anyway.

Anonymous said...

It's a strange feature, especially because there are so many subfields it does not address. I can't remember the last time it featured someone working in pre-modern history, for example.

Anonymous said...

Ditto Brian Ogilvie's first point. Rather than try to leave a teaching college for a research university early on, I left academia altogether to take care of two little kids, so that my spouse could pursue his more lucrative career. Make that *her* more lucrative career.

Anonymous said...

Well, whatever it is it isn't sexism. Historians are not sexist, are they?

I've just stopped looking at these pieces, unless they happen to be about someone I know -- though those are never in my field. I'm always thinking -- "Who decides? On what basis?"

Paris said...

HNN appears to be under the impression that history began in 1800, with the exception of a single brave sole that has plumbed to the depths of early America.

I had never read, or even heard of HNN until I followed your link. My conclusion is: hello? It's history. Change over time, remember that bit? Try to include something that didn't happen in the last fifteen minutes!

Ok, I'm getting carried away here, I admit it. Nevertheless, they need to add a few modifying adjectives to that name of theirs or go get themselves some token pre-modern historians.

Plus I giggle at any group, including the Republican Party and the Catholic church, that must include individuals over the age of 40 in their definition of young. They are many things and commendable for it, but young is perhaps not the most useful way to define them.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to go with "women are dumb." I've been wondering lately why I'm so dumb. This just explains everything! Thanks for this post. I am inlight... enlite... less dumb, now.

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