Women, Colonialism, History: Publishing on Women's History in Race and Colonial History Journals

Article excerpt

My task in this paper was to take stock of the intersection between women's history and postcolonial studies through the rather partial perspective of journals on race and colonialism. Gender has emerged as one of the primary analytical categories in contemporary postcolonial studies, yet the role of feminists in advancing analysis of empire, race and power has often been overlooked in favour of a genealogy of male scholars such as Fanon, Said, and Bhabha, sometimes leading to the marginalization of a separate trajectory of feminist thought about race and empire. In 1993, Ann Curthoys argued that the Australian 'historiographical traditions concerned with gender and those concerned with colonialism, racism, and the imperial past have remained remarkably distinct', and suggested that the lack of engagement by feminist historians with the history of Indigenous-settler relations was a 'key dilemma' they faced; she suggested that the reasons for this divergence included social distance between white scholars and Aboriginal women, but also the difficulty white feminists had in seeing themselves as oppressors rather than oppressed, concluding that there was a 'need to revise an assumption that lies at the heart of much feminist scholarship--the historical innocence of women.' (19) Since that time things have changed, as research addressing the intersection of gender and colonialism has prompted new questions, methods and historiographical innovations. What does the pattern of articles published in non-women-dedicated journals tell us about current research on colonialism and gender?

In conducting this review I drew upon on-line databases, journals, and websites, and surveyed key or often-cited articles in the field, focusing on publications since 2000. In terms of media, this survey revealed the continuing trend for publishers to make more content available online, reflected in the increasing prominence of big electronic houses such as Taylor and Francis, and Sage; 90% of journals for example, had been placed online in 2005, compared with 75% in 2003. (20) Nonetheless, the academy continues to regard books as the most prestigious and intellectually influential form of publication (indicated for example by research quantum assessment procedures, references provided in course outlines, select bibliographies and so on), and the relationship between journal articles and the larger picture of research and publishing on colonialism and gender is not always straightforward. As I discuss further, however, certain research themes appear more amenable to journal publication than others.

Overall, however, it appears that the publication in journals of research that addresses the intersection of colonialism and gender does reflect the distinct historiographical traditions of these fields, appearing either in journals dedicated to gender and women's history or, more rarely, in those concerned with colonial history and postcolonial theory, as well as in those history journals concerned with local or regional history. There are no prominent journals dedicated specifically to gender and colonialism. Since the mid-1990s colonialism has been a topic of significant interest for feminist historians, seeking to bring gender as a category of historical analysis to bear on colonialism as a global process. A substantial and influential body of work has been produced that explores the mutually constitutive relationship between 'metropole' and 'periphery', especially in creating the European social order--what Dipesh Chakrabarty has termed 'the provineialisation of Europe'. (21) Here I am thinking, for example, of scholars such as Anne McClintock, Ann Stoler and Catherine Hall. (22) This work has placed race, class and gender at the centre of analysis, showing how colonial experience helped shape these axes of social difference, and was in turn shaped by them. These studies have also acted to globalise imperial history and unsettle the nation as the central way of organising history. …