Southern women truly are half sisters of history. But it is my
contention that halfsisters may have an advantage over their com-
fortably ensconced siblings; as both family and outsiders, they
possess doubled perspectives. With these multiple lenses on the
past, scholars in southern women's history are not condemned to
the tunnel vision which has so hampered the fields within which
they labor. They recognize that context does not merely add to
our understanding but literally defines what we study. The shift-
ing of definitions and contents dramatically reconfigures our per-
ceptions ofthe past, with each new generation and over time.
Women's history in the nineteenth century consisted primarily
of biographical sketches of notable women who had made patri-
otic contributions to the nation. Many of these collective biog-
raphies are wonderful sources, but they rarely offer insight into
historical periodization, gender constructions, and other issues
critical to women's history today. When feminists tackled wom-
en's history in the closing decades ofthe last century, all too many
writers confined their sights to women's traditional roles: women
in education, women in religion, and women's contributions to
what was increasingly designated "the domestic sphere." When
production moved from the household into a separate workplace,
scholars argue, roles and responsibilities became more gendered
throughout American society. Women's activities were increas-
ingly confined to sex-segregated areas, and home and family were
labeled "woman's sphere."
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