The Journal of American History

Published by Oxford University Press (OUP)
Online ISSN: 0021-8723
Social characteristics that were considered ideal for the Victorian woman--morality domesticity and passivity--were assumed to be rooted in biology. The economic and social forces which began to change social roles in 19th-century Europe and America led women to demand more education and to practice fertility control against their previous traditional role. Men within the power structure used biological and medical arguments to rationalize traditional sex roles and oppose these deviations. This is a review of the literature which reflects the imprisoning of women in their biological entities and envisions motherhood as the normal destiny of all women. It was feared that women who lived beyond their normal biologically-based roles would produce inferior offspring. The so-called weakness of American women as compared to their European counterparts was seen to be the result of too much education for girls during puberty and adolescence. Women were eager to begin practicing fertility control in earnest because of the dangers of childbirth the drudgery which too many children caused for them and their desire to move beyond the home. The often-voiced fears of "race suicide" as a result of contraceptive practice were really reflections of the social changes occurring at that time and reflections of the tensions surrounding changing gender roles.
This essay takes as its subject two distinctive historiographies, one in postcolonial studies and the other in North American history, that both address how intimate domains-sex, sentiment, domestic arrangement, and child rearing-figure in the making of racial categories and in the management of imperial rule. It examines two prevailing trends: on the one hand, an analytic convergence in treatments of, and increasing attention to, intimacy in the making of empire; on the other, recognition of the distinctive conceptual commitments and political investments that shape the fields as separate disciplinary ventures and historiographic domains. I use the terms "postcolonial studies" and "colonial studies" interchangeably, although those who identify themselves with one do not always identify with the other. Some scholars use the term "postcolonial" to signal a cross-disciplinary political project, analytically akin to cultural studies, that rejects colonial categories and scholarship that takes them for granted. Others retain the term "colonial studies" to underscore more concern for the local and labor history of colonial societies while similarly acknowledging the continuing political, economic, and cultural landscape in which populations who have been colonized are subjugated and now live. The
Top-cited authors
Larry Cuban
  • Stanford University
Theda Skocpol
  • Harvard University
Steven Tipton
  • Emory University
Richard Bellah
  • The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett