I’ve been working this last week or so to finalize a syllabus for my fall course on the American Revolution as a way to kick-start my summer, review some literature for my long-dormant book project, and get the book order in before it’s really too late.
To start, I pulled a bunch of books off of my shelves to review as possible orders, and excitedly took a photo to tweet:
I’m flipping my summer by starting with fall syllabi. Up first, a little light reading for American Revolution. pic.twitter.com/VfFQ4YdxSH
— Joseph M. Adelman (@jmadelman) May 11, 2015
Then I looked at the photo. Do you notice anything amiss?
I did, and my heart sank. There was only one female author, and that’s Hannah Arendt, whose On Revolution is probably a little too esoteric for most undergraduate history courses. For a course such as the Revolution, it seems so unnaturally easy to fall into the stereotype of not only telling a story of rich, white men, but doing so through the conduit of historians who are also white and male (not holding my breath, though, about rich historians).
I think that’s a problem for two reasons. First is the issue of representation—a mentor once noted that she aims for a 50/50 gender ratio among book authors, and while I don’t know that I do the same myself I’m certainly conscious of what authors I assign. But it also points to a substantive issue of coverage. It’s partly generational; I like to assign Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn, but they’re hardly the only political historians who have anything to say. And it speaks somewhat to the frameworks and issues that are discussed in the course.
So I’ve spent a little while this afternoon with a thought experiment: what would a syllabus for the American Revolution course look like if the only books assigned were authored by women?
Here is my first glance bibliography of books that seem like they might work in an undergraduate course on the American Revolution:
Danielle S. Allen, Our Declaration
Hannah Arendt, On Revolution
Carol Berkin, A Brilliant Solution
Cathy N. Davidson, Revolution and the Word
Nicole Eustace, Passion is the Gale
Joanne B. Freeman, Affairs of Honor
Sylvia R. Frey, Water from the Rock
Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles
Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic
Susan Klepp, Revolutionary Conceptions
Sarah Knott, Sensibility and the American Revolution
Pauline Maier, American Scripture
Pauline Maier, From Resistance to Revolution
Pauline Maier, Ratification
Mary Beth Norton, Liberty’s Daughters
Rosemarie Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash
That’s a hell of a reading list, if you ask me, and it’s just a start. But you could teach a course with this list: it mixes classics with new, “old-school” political history with newer cultural approaches. And it doesn’t even account for work of a broader time scale (for example, Clare Lyons’ Sex among the Rabble) for which a chapter or two might be appropriate. Because it’s admittedly a quickly prepared list, what would you add?