Gender in the Atlantic World

Ellen Hartigan-O'Connor

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online May 2010 | | DOI:
Gender in the Atlantic World

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Women as well as men were central to the patterns of trade and conquest that made the Atlantic world. Early work in Atlantic history, however, which concentrated on the state and international commerce, often missed the vital participation of women. Early-21st-century attention to their experiences has revealed the ways that international structures had local effects. Native American women, for example, frequently acted as go-betweens or cultural brokers between Indian and European societies, gaining new allies for their families and power for themselves. The methods of women’s history, which include adding the experiences of ordinary and unusual women to traditional narratives and analyzing the ways that women’s experiences contradict, change, or reinforce traditional periodization and interpretations, have revised earlier understandings of what held the Atlantic world together. Research into women’s experiences has also revealed how central ideas about masculinity and femininity were to motivating, justifying, and shaping all manner of colonial efforts. Atlantic history has therefore proven an ideal place for gender history—the investigation of how people used ideas about gender to shore up hierarchies and power structures. Kathleen Brown coined the term “gender frontier” to capture those sites of cultural contact where multiple groups of people tried to make sense of seemingly alien notions of marriage customs, the sexual division of labor, or the meaning of motherhood. Relationships on this “gender frontier” typically led each group to solidify its own identity in contrast to a new other.

Article.  8418 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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