The Global Turn in American Women’s History

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 1:20 PM
Grand Ballroom B (Hilton Atlanta)
Susan Ware, American National Biography
The field of American women’s history has increasingly been moving beyond the national borders of the United States to place American women’s activism in a global context.  Inspired by work by Bonnie Anderson, Leila Rupp, Ellen Carol DuBois, among others, scholars have identified moments and points of contact when events and trends in American women’s history which had previously been viewed solely through a national lens are now being analyzed in a broader international context.  Abolition and the early women’s rights movement in the 1830s and 1840s, the temperance and suffrage movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the global feminist activism inspired by the United Nations Conferences on Women from the 1970s on are three prime examples.

Biographical dictionaries such as American National Biography can play a key role in mapping these larger patterns of interaction and exchange.  Although such reference works still lag in their coverage of women and other under-represented groups (women make up less than 20% of the ANB’s 19,000 entries), such sources offer a wide range of individual biographies whose links and cross references are the building blocks of a map of interconnections for understanding wider patterns of social movements and activism, both nationally and internationally.  As scholars follow the story outward from the United States, they can profitably consult other national biographical dictionaries for information on key players.  In this way biographical dictionaries can encourage and facilitate new research at the same time they profit from the identification of potential new subjects worthy of inclusion.