Monday, 16 January 2017

Emerging From a Bubble

This Bubble was not one of those exciting financial market or property ones that I enjoy discussing. This Bubble was called 'dissertation', a rather lengthy essay worth almost 17% of my entire university degree. It has kept me very occupied since September, and has completely absorbed me for the last few weeks. Daunting task, and most days since September, and every day since Christmas have I been reading, counting, writing, regressing, handling data-series, analysing, proof-reading, referencing and finally a few days ago handing it in. Such a relief.

Now, I tried to gather some numbers on this little baby of mine. Closure, or something. 12878 words, depending on how you count the twenty-two or so colourful charts I include. I probably read around a 100 books and articles for it, as well as looking through 175-year-old balance sheets. We're probably looking at some 500-700 hours in total, and I won't even try to reach a count of pages read.

One interesting observation I made was that out of the 86 scholars I referenced, only 7 were women. This, I argue, is to be expected due to the nature of my topic:

Moreover, it raises an interesting question about women in history that I have considered from time to time. Doing a degree in Economic & Social history, looking at women and applying 'gender perspectives' is not exactly novel things. I'm fairly sure there wasn't a single lecture or seminar where gender/class/race was not present in one way or another. Important? Sure. Is my department overdoing it? Definitely.

Hear me out now. Women have in various ways been oppressed and surpressed in Western societies for the last humph centuries, which of course is something that falls within the domain of historians to research, justifying a gender/women perspective. But to the extent that this perspective is justified, it also becomes irrelevant. How? If women in history have not had power, social/financial/legal influence, or more than marginally or on rare occassions contributed to moving history forward – which is the starting point for these perspectives  they are also largely irrelevant for explaining history. The more excluded they were, the less impact they have had on anything that matters, or any broad-stroke or even detailed history that we can paint.

Let's consider my topic, banking history. The only interesting thing a gender perspective can bring, as illustrated by the share of women scholars in my bibliography (giving Congo and Mali parliaments a run for their money...), is saying something about modern-day historians and their interests. Some possible explanations for my observation: that I'm a chauvinist pig, discarding female writers; that women historians focus on other topics than banking; that the quality of women historians in banking history is inferior; that women in general do not become professional historians or write on historical topics. All interesting questions.

How about the topic itself? Could we apply some gender perspective there? So, the 1847 crisis has to do with in harvest failures, merchants importing wheat, actions by the Bank of England and Parliament in regards to wheat, monetary systems and gold flows, railway mania etc. Nowhere in this are women more than marginally present. This obviously doesn't mean that they weren't around, but that considering their roles in creating the crisis is time wasted.

As historians we aim to explain and describe history. To the extent that women have been oppressed and relegated to certain narrow areas of society, anything outside that area lacks a strong female presence. We can analyse that and complain about that, hypothesise as to what the world would have looked like if that were not the case. But if we try to explain and describe history as it happened, which we ultimately must, irrelevant aspects such as women's roles in propagating the 1847 crisis must be tossed aside.

P.S. I uploaded a 3000-word essay concerning the 1847 and 1857 crises that I wrote in November, parts of which ended up in my final dissertation. The dissertation itself will be published on my Publications site as soon as possible. 

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