Historians have long struggled with the need to rewrite western history and to articulate a new, inclusive synthesis that fully incorporates the history of women of color. In her concluding remarks at the Women’s West Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1983, Susan Shown Harjo (identifying herself culturally as Cheyenne and Creek and politically as Cheyenne and Arapaho) charged that women of the West are still possessed of inaccurate information about who we are collectively, who we are individually, and who we have been.We view each other through layers of racial, ethnic, and class biases, perpetuated by the white, male ruling institutions, such as the educational system that teaches in the early years and controls later research in the history of women in the West. This critique of the reigning historiography has changed little since then or since Joan Jensen and Darlis Miller first called for a multicultural, or intercultural, approach in their essay, “The Gentle Tamers Revisited: New Approaches to the History of Women in the American West.” A decade of “multicultural” historiography has still not come to terms with the historical, theoretical, political, and ideological issues raised by Harjo at Sun Valley. This essay discusses the historiography that was written during the 1980s about women in the nineteenth-century West. It examines the issues, politics, concepts, methodologies, and language of the “multicultural” or intercultural approach first articulated by Jensen and Miller and the ways in which the intersection of gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, class, and culture are described, theorized, and interpreted in the recent historical literature.The first section places in context the historiography of women of color in the decade before “The Gentle Tamers Revisited” was published, while the second places in context “The Gentle Tamers Revisited” itself.
Women of Color and the Rewriting of Western History: The Discourse, Politics, and Decolonization of History
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