Catherine Clinton and Michele Gillespie, The Devil's Lane: Sex and Race in the
Early South (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1997,
£28.50). Pp. 274. ISBN 0 19 511242 3.
Tera Hunter, To ‘Joy My Freedom’: Southern
Black Women's Lives and Labors after the Civil War
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997,
£19.95). Pp. 311. ISBN 0 674 893 9 3.
Theda Perdue, Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700–1835
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998, £38.00). Pp. 252.
ISBN 0 8032 3716 2.
Vicki L. Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century
America (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, £24.99). Pp. 240.
ISBN 0 19 5114833.
The historical study of women has evolved from a consideration of elite women,
the quest for suffrage, and women in organized groups to encompass different
classes, ethnic groups, and social settings. Writing women back into the
historical record has led to a more creative use of data sources, a greater depth
of understanding about how societies work on both formal and informal levels,
and the exploration of gendered patterns of most aspects of the economy, social
structure, and politics. However, the conceptual frameworks of women's history
have not kept pace with the expansion of scholarship to encompass a more
These four books highlight two trends in contemporary historical practice: the
inclusion of gender as an essential aspect of our understanding of the past and the
use of comparative frameworks to investigate the significance of socially
constructed sex roles for society. By contrasting women's lives in different
settings and racial groups, the authors illustrate how communities shape gender
roles and how those roles influence a wide range of social, political, economic,
and cultural events. Gender thus takes its place as a fundamental category of
historical analysis without which it is difficult to understand American (or any
other) history; women's work, family relationships, voluntary, social, and
political activities are as central to understanding society as men's.