Living with History/Making Social Change

Living with History/Making Social Change

Living with History/Making Social Change

Living with History/Making Social Change


This stimulating collection of essays in an autobiographical framework spans the period from 1963 to the present. It encompasses Gerda Lerner's theoretical writing and her organizational work in transforming the history profession and in establishing Women's History as a mainstream field.

Six of the twelve essays are new, written especially for this volume; the others have previously appeared in small journals or were originally presented as talks, and have been revised for this book. Several essays discuss feminist teaching and the problems of interpretation of autobiography and memoir for the reader and the historian. Lerner's reflections on feminism as a worldview, on the meaning of history writing, and on problems of aging lend this book unusual range and depth.

Together, the essays illuminate how thought and action connected in Lerner's life, how the life she led before she became an academic affected the questions she addressed as a historian, and how the social and political struggles in which she engaged informed her thinking. Written in lucid, accessible prose, the essays will appeal to the general reader as well as to students at all levels. Living with History / Making Social Change offers rare insight into the life work of one of the leading historians of the United States.


At this time, when I look back on my life and my work, I see patterns and connections that were not so clearly visible at an earlier stage of my life. The impact of outside political and social events that I experienced in childhood and as a teenager shaped my connection to history: I was a victim of terror and persecution; my life was deeply affected by historical events. As a witness to terrible events, I early learned that history matters. On the other side, a childhood in which artistic creativity and expression were cherished and in which learning was considered not only a practical means of career building, but a means of finding equilibrium and meaning in life well equipped me for survival as a refugee. The life of learning and thinking would always be connected for me with teaching others and with finding a way of applying what I knew to the problems in society.

This book combines essays written over a period of several decades that touch upon the highlights of my practical work as a teacher and as an agent of social change in and out of the academy, and others, recently written, that focus on some of my main concerns as a historian and a political thinker. In this book I want to show how thought and action have been connected in my life; how the life I had led before I became an academic affected the questions I asked as a historian; how the social struggles in which I engaged as an academic woman informed my thinking. I want to explain how a decision to change the content of historical scholarship and knowledge so as to give women just representation became a challenge to develop new teaching methods and to create alternate models of academic discourse. I want to trace how feminist teaching led to the development of “outreach” projects that influenced a large number of people, far beyond the reach of the academy.

Social change is made by strategic analysis and by consistent and continuous organizational work. An adequate strategic analysis—that is, one that can be proven successful by pragmatic application—needs to be based on deep analysis that takes many factors into consideration, and on an . . .

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