New directions for early medieval women’s history?
Rachel Stone (Department of Coins and Medals, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge University)
The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, Issue 15 (October 2012)
I was prompted to write about new directions in early medieval women’s history by a passing remark in the introduction to a recent book: The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: New Directions in Early Medieval Studies. In their introduction, Jennifer R. Davis and Michael McCormick state:
We chose to approach a number of accomplished practitioners. We asked them to come to Harvard to discuss what they found most exciting and promising from their varied disciplinary perspectives. Those who could come proposed questions and issues that were wonderful in their variety. We were surprised at some of the themes that turned up, such as the weather, and at others that came up only rarely, for instance, gender. Even so, the volume offers a broad sampling of some of the most exciting new directions of early medieval research (Davis and McCormick 2008, 7–8).
The immediate question is thus raised: is gender no longer an exciting new direction for early medieval research? When you add this to Judith Bennett’s recent lament (Bennett 2006, 30–53) about how women’s history in the US has marginalized the study of medieval history (and indeed, all premodern history) then it’s possible to start wondering if there are problems in early medieval women’s history. Have the study of women and gender, which largely “appeared” in early medieval history in the 1970s and 1980s “disappeared” again, or simply gone out of fashion, like other 1970s phenomena? Have they, on the contrary, become so mainstream that their separate study no longer needs to be highlighted? I want to take an overview and look at where this field of history is currently going. Which themes are receiving research and what new directions are possible?