In a new book, black woman historians describe their experiences





When the elder stateswomen of black historians began to pursue their doctoral degrees decades ago, few felt as if they were joining an academic community. Isolated and unappreciated, set apart by their very demands to be included in a university and a discipline that had been dominated by white men, they were braced for a long and lonely battle against the status quo. In Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (University of North Carolina Press), 17 professors prove by their collective experiences that they have built their own community of support.

In their essays, the scholars describe their careers and the determination that led them to claim history as their own — particularly the history of black women, for whom records, if they existed, often perpetuated racist and sexist misperceptions. As for their struggles for acceptance in academe, some of the authors say they continue to face them.

Deborah Gray White, a professor of history at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, introduces the essays (which she edited) with a brief account of those black women who, from the early 20th century to the civil-rights and feminist eras, studied, taught, and wrote history. "These women," she says, "understood how history functioned not only to oppress them but also to keep them from becoming historians, professional or otherwise." White hopes that the book will serve "as a sort of 'how-to' survival manual for those who are currently struggling against entrenched historical methods, historiographies, and faculties … whose very bodies stand in opposition to the conventional wisdom regarding academia."...


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