Rethinking Western Women's History and the North American West
Contingent Maps is an appeal to all who read, write, and care about the history of women in the North American West. Susan E. Gray and Gayle Gullett, former co-editors of Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, argue that the discipline of Western women’s history, despite its many years of accomplishment, remains “the stepsister to both U.S. women’s history and the New Western history.” The problem, they assert, is one of place. Western women’s history remains unhappily chained to one place, Frederick Jackson Turner’s mythical frontier, where white civilization vanquished Indigenous savagery. Drawing on the work of feminist geographers, Gray and Gullett contend that the West is better understood as a place of many places.
Contingent Maps demonstrates how employing place as an analytical tool transforms Western women’s history. Gray and Gullett depict place as not only a physical location but as a way of understanding, as the spatial configuration of power relations that are always in flux. As a place and many places, the West is therefore always being constructed. All maps are contingent, as Gray and Gullett’s reading of the articles in this collection attest. Contingent Maps offers histories of Wests ranging from the nineteenth century to the near present. This synthesis of feminist history and geography has the potential to revitalize the field of Western women’s history.
“This anthology makes a bold attempt to redirect women’s history by incorporating and synthesizing the work of feminist geographers in considering place and space.”—Laurie Mercier, co-author of Speaking History: Oral Histories of the American Past, 1865–Present
“This volume seeks to serve as a call to arms for scholars to utilize the theoretical framework of socially defined ‘place.’ If Western women’s historians heed Gray and Gullett’s call, it could become a foundational volume in the next generation of Western women’s history.”—Cynthia Culver Prescott, author of Gender and Generation on the Far Western Frontier
“Contingent Maps is a thought-provoking and original collection of essays, a welcome addition to the rich and vibrant field of women’s history for both U.S. and western American historians.”—The Journal of American History
“A collection that enhances our understanding of race, gender, and place in the American West, revealing how Western women’s history continues to be a vibrant—and vital—field.”—New Mexico Historical Review
“A critical addition to the field of Western women’s history.”—Historical Society of Southern California