Historical Analysis after the “History Wars”: Gender, Race, Subjectivity
This panel on theory and practice of history in the twenty-first century is envisioned as a follow-up to the “’History Wars’ of the 1990s" roundtable organized by Sarah Maza for the 2014 AHA. It brings together an intergenerational group of scholars who extend the conversation about the theoretical and methodological questions of history writing posed in the 1970s and 1990s into the present-day problematics. In particular, the panelists consider the following question: How has the practice of history changed and evolved since the 1990s? One way to begin answering this vast and timely question that this panel proposes is to critically access of what has happened to such bedrock categories of historical analysis as gender, race, and subjectivity. Treating these categories as working modes of analysis, the panelists investigate histories of their making and remaking together with their founding assumptions, conceptual possibilities and limitations as well as lasting interpretive habits. Drawing on their recent work, paper presenters consider ways of going beyond historiographical traditions under critique.
The paper presenters come from a scholarly cohort that entered the profession in the mid- and late-1990s and spent their graduate years absorbing and questioning theoretical and methodological innovations of the preceding generation. Professor Krylova’s paper is focused on a history of the gender category since 1986 to the present. In it, she critically considers the recent status of gender as a normative category and explores its founding definitional parameters and worked-out analytical approaches. Drawing on her Soviet Women in Combat which won the 2011 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the AHA, she explores the limitations that the gender category predicated on its oppositional and asymmetrical binarity imposes on the study of heterosexual subjectivity. Professor Hall’s paper analyzes uses of the race category in recent scholarship that uncovers racial histories in India, Africa, and late medieval Spain. His first book, A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600-1960, the 2012 co-winner of the AHA’s Martin A. Klein Prize, enables him to raise the question of whether historians want to understand race as the exclusive province of modern Western historical formations, or whether the category can be used analytically in different settings without being bound to a Western genealogy of race. In his paper, Professor Zimmerman explicates the ways scholars have utilized the concept of subjectivity. He pays a special attention to scholarly selective uses and appropriations of Foucault’s theory of subjectivity and examines processes of ‘liberalization’ of the Foucauldian subject in contemporary scholarship.
The other three panel participants—Gabrielle Spiegel (chair), Professors Sarah Maza (discussant), Judith Walkowitz (discussant)—played a major role in the “History Wars” of the 1990s and, more specifically, in the development of the categories under consideration. They will contribute their own insights to the conceptual issues raised by the three presenters.