“Legible Once Again”: An Archive of Early Histories by Women
This archival exhibit calls attention to the long history of women’s historical writing, a history that is sometimes less-than-legible in conversations and collections that focus on the discipline as traditionally defined. In assembling this archive, I take inspiration from the work of Megan Matchinske, who has argued that rendering "women’s historical writing legible once again” requires that we understand how women wrote around the traditional historical forms that were often denied to them—and that failed to represent their lives and experiences.
In this archive of early women’s histories, I have collected works that range well beyond the genres that are often associated with history: annals, chronicles, and national and universal histories. I have included some of these forms, but I have also collected memoirs, biographies, diaries, dramatic works, adaptations for children, and the many other forms of writing about the past that provided women a space to make their own histories legible.
[Here, you might talk more about how you hope your users would engage with your exhibit; you might also add a separate section on using the archive, as well as your selection principles.]
A Timeline of Histories
[This is a partial sample of the early histories by women available in the DPLA; if a goal of your archive is comprehensiveness, you would likely want additional examples. By contrast, your exhibit might focus on a smaller number of items, but with more detailed framing and information. You would want to think about—and perhaps even discuss—the impact of presenting your materials as a timeline. You could also think about the limitations of the metadata (Hutchinson's Life of Colonel Hutchinson was first written in the seventeenth century; the date in the DPLA's records, which controls the timeline placement, is for a later edition.) ]
Read in Women Writers Online
- Adams, Hannah — A Summary History of New England, 1799
- Augustine, Sister Magdalen, trans. (from Luke Wadding) — The History of the Angelical Virgin Glorious S. Clare (Introductory Material), 1635
- Behn, Aphra — The Widow Ranter, 1690
- Cary, Elizabeth (Tanfield), Viscountess Falkland — The Tragedie of Mariam, 1613
- Cary, Elizabeth (Tanfield), Viscountess Falkland — The History of the Life, Reign, and Death of Edward II, 1680
- Cavendish, Margaret (Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle — The Life of William Cavendish, 1667
- Cheney, Harriet Vaughan (Foster) — A Peep at the Pilgrims, 1824
- Deverell, Mary — Mary, Queen of Scots; An Historical Tragedy, 1792
- Hodson, Margaret (Holford) — Margaret of Anjou, 1816
- Kilham, Hannah — Memoir of the Late Hannah Kilham, 1837
- Prince, Nancy (Gardener) — A Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince, 1850
- Williams, Catherine Read (Arnold) — Fall River, 1833
- Yearsley, Ann (Cromartie) — Earl Goodwin, an Historical Play, 1791
[You can also link out to or otherwise include materials that are not in the DRS or the DPLA; just make sure to provide an appropriate framework and be thoughtful about what these materials are contributing to your exhibit.]
Vector Space Analysis
The Life of William Cavendish
Although there be many sorts of Histories, yet these three are the chiefest:
1. A General History.
2. A National History.
3. A Particular History…
The first is the History of the known parts and people of the World; The second is the History of a particular Nation, Kingdom or Commonwealth. The third is the History of the life and actions of some particular Person.
Cavendish goes on to outline the qualities of these three sorts of histories. The first, she says, has some limited utility; it is "profitable for Travellers, Navigators and Merchants" but the second is "pernicious, by reason it teaches subtil Policies, begets Factions, not onely between particular Families and Persons, but also between whole Nations, and great Princes, rubbing old sores, and renewing old Quarrels, that would otherwise have been forgotten." However, the third kind of history, the kind that Cavendish herself has written, is "most secure" because it "goes not out of its own Circle, but turns on its own Axis, and for the most part, keeps within the Circumference of Truth."
Cavendish's description of the autobiography as a historical genre equivalent to national and general histories, and—in fact—as a superior form of history makes a bold claim for the kind of history she is writing.
[Here, I could go on to add more detail about the publication of this work and discuss its importance for the archive I am building.]
Sources and Credits
Matchinske, Megan. Women Writing History in Early Modern England. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
I would like to thank the whole CERES Toolkit team, and Sarah Payne in particular, for their assistance in creating this exhibit.
[Don't forget to include your sources and credits for those who helped you create your archival exhibit.]