Head of History

In the first weeks of term one this year I came across an article in The Guardian entitled “Big books by blokes about battles: Why is history still written mainly by men?”   In the article, a range of prominent historians were interviewed and asked whether they felt gender bias still played a role in the way people create and consume history. Well known ancient historian, Mary Beard, opens the article with this reflection: “So many women write great general history books, why don’t they sell in the vast numbers that they should? My guess is, rather gloomily, that this is another aspect of the “women’s voices” problem; that public authority is still very largely vested not just in what men say but also what they write (and for the most part, white, middle-class men at that).” Beard’s statement got me thinking about how many girls go on to study History at university, especially at post-graduate level, and whether this may be a factor in the drowning out of the voice of the female historian. In my research I could only uncover statistics from the US, but they were quite telling (see below):

History PhD stats

Seeing these statistics revealed a couple of things to me. Firstly, overall the number of History PhDs are increasing, with a particularly sharp increase between 2012 and 2014. Secondly, whilst the number of female History PhDs is steadily increasing it is still around 200 below the rate of males (although the graph does show that this gap is slowly but surely closing). This lower rate of female PhDs should have come as no surprise to me, particularly after reading the Guardian article, but it did confuse me somewhat in light of the fact that our girls at Loreto are such talented and passionate historians. Are we an exception to the norm or does something happen after school ends where the enthusiasm dims? A key focus of the History department this year has been to encourage our girls to reflect on these statistics and the comments of those like Mary Beard and think about how they can maintain their passion for history in the years beyond school. We see it as vital that our girls enter the intellectual space contested by historians and learn to develop a prominent voice in the public discourse whether they become historians or not. The History Extension Q&A evening a few weeks back gave several of our Year 12 girls an opportunity to develop this confident voice by discussing the research findings from their Major Works in a public forum. This was the first of many steps the History department is taking to ensure that our girls buck the statistical trends and develop into women who can stand alongside Mary Beard and others in overturning the “women’s voices problem.”

 

Mr Marco Scali

Head of History