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Thread: Female historians?

  1. #1
    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Female historians?

    Hi gang,

    In ancient and medieval times, how many female historians were there and what impact did their works have on mainstream historiography in their societies?

    From the top of my head I can only think of two: Ban Zhao (班昭), who lived in Han China from the 1st to 2nd century AD; and of course the Byzantine princess Anna Komnene (Άννα Κομνηνή) who lived in Greece from the 11th to 12th century AD.

    Were there any earlier female historians? Obviously none before the 5th century BC, since Herodotus is considered the first true historian (which is different from the earlier chroniclers of Egypt and other civilizations).

  2. #2
    Col. Tartleton's Avatar Comes Limitis
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Nuns were working on the same sort of clerical work as monks. So if that counts, well, then obviously that counts.

    I can't think of examples, but I'm not terribly familiar with medieval and classical historians.

    There were definitely female scholars though. I'm just not sure how involved they were in historical work. Hypatia of Alexandria is quite well known for her work in mathematics and philosophy, she oversaw the Platonist school at the Serapeum in Alexandria. Kind of like being the president of the Harvard.
    Last edited by Col. Tartleton; January 08, 2013 at 06:42 AM.
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    Magister Militum Flavius Aetius's Avatar Aetī Avēas!
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Hypatia was also dumb enough to burn down the Library where all her work was

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    I'm not sure how exhaustive it is since it's a Wikipedia list article after all, but from a quick glance at List of Historians over there, I have to say there is an incredible dearth. I pretty much suspected that.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_historians

    And to Col. Tarleton, speaking of nuns, the only notable female historian I can find between Anna Komnene and all the female historians of the 19th century is Mary Bonaventure Browne, a 17th-century Irish nun who wrote her history compendium while exiled in Spain.

    I thought for sure that Ban Zhao from China was the world's earliest female historian, living not too long after China's first true historian Sima Qian (145 - 86 BC), if you don't count the groundwork laid out by his father Sima Tan. As you rightly point out, though, there were notable female scholars of the ancient world like Hypatia of Alexandria. But I finally found a female historian in the West who was Ban Zhao's contemporary! Pamphile of Epidaurus, who lived in Egypt during the reign of Roman emperor Nero:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamphile_of_Epidaurus

    Unfortunately she's not listed in the first article I posted above, but I'll try to hunt and find more of these ladies! This seems to be a very neglected topic if it's causing me this much trouble to find out about it.

    EDIT: I felt compelled to add Pamphile to that list, so I went ahead and edited Wikipedia. Aren't living encyclopedias great for that reason?

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Lol. Take a look at this google search I did for "female historians":

    http://www.google.com/search?client=...UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

    The most prominent link is from Wikipedia, the List of historians article I've talked about, and highlighted is the edit that I just f-ing made about Pamphile. There's a bunch of other links that aren't that relevant or important and the third search item from the bottom is, you guessed it:

    Female historians? - Total War Center Forums
    www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?t=583306
    I can't think of examples, but I'm not terribly familiar with medieval and classical historians. There were definitely female scholars though.
    Apparently I'm one of the leading researchers into female historians. Since two links on the first search page are directly related to my efforts.

    Sigh.
    Roma_Victrix

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    Copperknickers II's Avatar quaeri, si sapis
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    Lol. Take a look at this google search I did for "female historians":

    http://www.google.com/search?client=...UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

    The most prominent link is from Wikipedia, the List of historians article I've talked about, and highlighted is the edit that I just f-ing made about Pamphile. There's a bunch of other links that aren't that relevant or important and the third search item from the bottom is, you guessed it:


    Apparently I'm one of the leading researchers into female historians. Since two links on the first search page are directly related to my efforts.

    Sigh.
    Roma_Victrix
    Haha. Unfortunately, Google searches now give greater priority to your most frequented websites when giving you your search results, so I think that may have something to do with that. But still, very interesting about Pamphile, +rep.
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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Quote Originally Posted by Copperknickers II View Post
    Haha. Unfortunately, Google searches now give greater priority to your most frequented websites when giving you your search results, so I think that may have something to do with that. But still, very interesting about Pamphile, +rep.
    Thanks! I had never heard of Pamphile before this, which is kind of indicative of the whole lack of focus or interest in historical women. As a guy, I'll even admit that it doesn't come as first nature for me to say "oh wait, women should also be considered in this topic." Lol. That's why it's so damn important to highlight people like her, because let's face it, in comparison to influential men there's but a handful of really important female figures throughout history. I'm not some ridiculous "herstory" feminist who thinks they should be given undue weight just for being women, but for God's sake they shouldn't be pushed into the background and ignored to this extent.

    And I noticed another thing while doing this little search. Although there is a real dearth of female historians before the 19th century, important female writers like poets are quite abundant, from the Western world, Islamic world, East Asian Confucian world, etc. Mayan and pre-Columbian poetry fortunately still exists in the historical record, some of it quite beautiful, but is there any evidence for Meso-American female poets before the arrival of Columbus? I hope someone can answer that.

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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Recently a Musulman scholar here in Oxford published research into female scholars during early and medieval Islam. Apparently there were bucket loads of them. I'd imagine they too would count as historians in the context of the period. Haven't read it so can't give details.

    An article on the story. I haven't really read that either.

    http://www.emel.com/article?id&a_id=828
    Last edited by The Gurkhan; January 10, 2013 at 07:43 PM.

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Quote Originally Posted by The Gurkhan View Post
    Recently a Musulman scholar here in Oxford published research into female scholars during early and medieval Islam. Apparently there were bucket loads of them. I'd imagine they too would count as historians in the context of the period. Haven't read it so can't give details.

    An article on the story. I haven't really read that either.

    http://www.emel.com/article?id&a_id=828
    Nice to see so many lady scholars throughout the centuries from the Islamic world, but the article only says they were teachers and writers in logic, philosophy, calligraphy, rhetoric, law, and theology, not history. The specific role of Muslim women as historians is nowhere mentioned in that article. Again, this comes as no surprise given the total worldwide paucity I've gleaned from online searches for female historians living before the 19th century. Truly, there was only a small handful of them in the ancient and medieval world.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Female historians?

    Technically, there were no historians before the 19th century. Sometimes peopole wrote something which resembles history, but in general it's not considered history. It's a source for historians to use.
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Technically, there were no historians before the 19th century. Sometimes peopole wrote something which resembles history, but in general it's not considered history. It's a source for historians to use.
    And technically that is fairly pompous of the modern profession since no doubt in 1000 years the same will be said of current Doctors or Historians...

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    Rinan's Avatar Centenarius
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ishoss View Post
    Technically, there were no historians before the 19th century. Sometimes peopole wrote something which resembles history, but in general it's not considered history. It's a source for historians to use.
    That's ridiculous. Just because they had a different work ethic/purpose/style/scientific values from modern historians doesn't mean they're not historians. Was Ptolemy not an astronomer because he's so different from modern day astronomers? Science and philosophy of science are constantly evolving.

    Technically, anyone who writes a history is a historian.


    Would be interested to find out more about the OP's question. Often women were kept outside of the scientific community. But in the renaissance rich women were able to commit to humanist studies in their private lives. In the enlightenment rich women furthered intellectual debate by acting as salonnières. I'm curious whether we can find historians among these learned women!

    edit: The Gurkhan's article is interesting, but it speaks generally of scholars and not of historians. The text has a strong focus on religion and women who were expert on the hadiths and whatnot, so I think the text is mainly speaking about 'theologians'. But heck, surely there are historians amongst 8000 female islamic scholars?
    Last edited by Rinan; January 12, 2013 at 06:52 PM.

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rinan View Post
    Technically, anyone who writes a history is a historian.
    Agreed. I had a debate with someone about a similar topic over at Wikipedia a long time ago, whether ancient Roman and Chinese historians' work should be considered primary sources or secondary sources when citing them. I believe I won that round.

    Would be interested to find out more about the OP's question. Often women were kept outside of the scientific community. But in the renaissance rich women were able to commit to humanist studies in their private lives. In the enlightenment rich women furthered intellectual debate by acting as salonnières. I'm curious whether we can find historians among these learned women!
    Perhaps, but the search is not yielding much fruit for me. I need access to a scholarly journal database like JSTOR. But alas, I no longer do!

    edit: The Gurkhan's article is interesting, but it speaks generally of scholars and not of historians. The text has a strong focus on religion and women who were expert on the hadiths and whatnot, so I think the text is mainly speaking about 'theologians'. But heck, surely there are historians amongst 8000 female islamic scholars?
    Those are good odds, my friend.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Female historians?

    christine de Pizan ffor her work on Joan of Arc

  15. #15

    Default Re: Female historians?

    Not a historian per say, but a medieval female nun scholar, Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 17 September 1179)

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    Rinan's Avatar Centenarius
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    The weird thing is, I can't imagine this subject is untouched considering gender history is pretty much in vogue nowadays...

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix
    I need access to a scholarly journal database like JSTOR. But alas, I no longer do!
    Quickly googled it, seems like they offer part of their content for free. Somehow it's sad though that there's a price tag on knowledge and science.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheNasoRomaLost
    christine de Pizan ffor her work on Joan of Arc
    That's a good one. She was a female writer, apparently the first in history to make herself a living this way, and she also wrote a biography of king Charles V of France. And she wrote about Troy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christine_de_Pizan
    Last edited by Rinan; January 13, 2013 at 02:16 PM.

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    Default Re: Female historians?

    The weird thing is, I can't imagine this subject is untouched considering gender history is pretty much in vogue nowadays...

    It may be vogue to being equally ignored with the rest of history.

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    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar 大信皇帝
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    delete
    Last edited by Lord Oda Nobunaga; January 15, 2013 at 02:57 PM.

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    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar 大信皇帝
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Lots of Chinese and Japanese female historians, but they mostly tell of life in Japan and China and not so much about the politics and all that.
    I'll see if I can find something, you already said Ban Zhao.

    • Pamphile of Epidaurus, (female historian active during the reign of Nero, r. 54-68), Greek history
    • Ban Zhao, (45 - 116), (Chinese Han Dynasty, China's first female historian)
    • Baudovinia, (fl. c. 600), Frankish nun who wrote a biography of Radegund
    • Grace Aguilar, (1816–1847), Jewish history
    • Murasaki Shikibu ( , English: Lady Murasaki) (c. 978 – c. 1014 or 1025)
    • Sappho is also possibly a historian in a Musician sort of way

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: Female historians?

    Quote Originally Posted by Magister Militum Flavius Aetius View Post
    Hypatia was also dumb enough to burn down the Library where all her work was
    Wait...where on earth did you get that idea? Or is this just your dry attempt at a joke? Sorry to raise a long dead thread from beyond the grave, but I had to ask.

    And also let people know I've failed to find any other female historians from antiquity besides Pamphile of Epidaurus and Ban Zhao.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rinan View Post
    That's a good one. She was a female writer, apparently the first in history to make herself a living this way, and she also wrote a biography of king Charles V of France. And she wrote about Troy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christine_de_Pizan
    I've been thinking about Christine de Pizan a lot lately (must have something to do with the masters degree I'm getting). Although I would obviously refrain from calling her a full fledged historian like Pamphile or Ban Zhao, she at least wrote Charles V's biography. That must count for something. In any case she was a fantastic poet and blessed with rhetorical skills.

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