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History in Focus

the guide to historical resources • Issue 8: Gender •


A photograph of two women in a drawing room

Two women in a drawing room c. 1890.

Photo courtesy of the Hampshire Photographic Project (photo reference: 20M92/1/z33).


It is almost impossible to study the subject of history without encountering the issues encompassed by gender history and its perception. By and large the existing internet resources reflect the way in which the study of history is interspersed with the study of gender, though much of what is available reflects the traditional emphasis on women’s and gay and lesbian history.

There are a huge number of websites focusing on the roles and experience of women throughout history and good general sites include the Internet Women's History Sourcebook, which breaks resources down by country and general theme; The Genesis Project, linked to the Women’s Library and London Metropolitan University, providing a gateway to resources online and the Gerritson Collection, a single source for women’s history spanning four centuries. Oral history projects often provide useful and interesting personal insights into social and cultural experiences though they are frequently limited to a particular period or geographical area, for example From history to her story Yorkshire women's lives online, 1100 to the present . There are also many sites that catalogue the experience of women as regards a specific historical phenomenon (Women at War, Women and the Holocaust); country (Women in American History, African women on the Internet); or period (Feminae: medieval women and gender index, Women’s life in Greece and Rome).

The experience of men and the study of masculinity through an historical studies perspective is less widely covered by internet resources, though sites on labour history, monarchy & primogeniture and sport may provide interesting cross references. The Masculinity & Imperialism Bibliography provides comprehensive lists of texts on the history and historiography of masculinity, specifically in an imperial and colonial context, while the Men, Masculinity and Gender, and Family, pages on the University of Leiden’s History of Love and Marriage site, provide bibliographies and links to other useful resources. Further explorations of masculinity and culture can be found on sites dealing with fashion, costume and uniform.

Gay and lesbian studies are, along with women’s studies, fairly widely covered by way of internet resources. The Bibliography of Gay and Lesbian History includes extensive information about secondary sources on gay and lesbian history and along with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Historical Society and Out of the Past, provides a gateway into the general subject area. Also as with women’s history, there are many sites focusing on gay and lesbian experiences during specific periods (Homosexuality in Eighteenth Century England) and in specific contexts (The Nazi persecution of homosexuals), as a starting point for research.


Bibliography of the history of western sexuality, 1700-1945

The website Bibliography of the History of Western Sexuality, 1700-1945 is a bibliographical online source based on the research of one of the senior academics in the Department of Economic and Social History at the University of Vienna. The Bibliography lists over 16,000 secondary works on the history of sexuality in Europe, the United States and Canada from 1700 to 1945. It also contains titles which focus on the history of ancient and medieval sexuality, as well as some sources for non-Western societies. Subject categories are somewhat arbitrary, but there are detailed instructions to aid in the use of the search engine, and the site should prove valuable for those doing work in the History of Gender and related fields.

Record courtesy of HUMBUL.

The Labyrinth: resources for medieval studies

The Labyrinth: Resources for Medieval Studies gateway currently has 278 links to websites on several different aspects of medieval studies and is continuously updated. The content concentrates particularly on art, architecture, religion, languages and literature. The links have been divided into twenty-four main categories, most of which have then been further subdivided. It is also possible to specify the type of material being searched for. It is, for example, possible to limit the material being returned to primary documents. In all cases the user can select more than one category or select all the categories. The site can also be searched by keyword. The site is being continually updated.

The Victorian Web

The Victorian Web provides a comprehensive general overview of nineteenth-century British history and literature. The site is divided into sections on political, social, and economic history. There are also sections on gender matters, philosophy, religion, science, technology, genre and technique, authors, visual arts and Victorian design. Within each section commentaries are provided on individual themes. These commentaries present a useful introduction to the topics covered. Use is also made of abstracts from primary sources. In addition the Victorian Web provides links to other web resources and has a bibliography.

The Victorian web was created under the direction of George Landow, Professor of English and Art History at Brown University. The site was originally designed as a resource to aid in the teaching of courses in Victorian literature.

All the material is in English and is available free of charge. The site is easy to browse and a search facility is provided.

American memory: historical collections for the National Digital Library

The American memory website aims to provide electronic access to holdings at the Library of Congress which relate to the United States. The material on the site includes photographs, manuscripts, rare books, maps, recorded sound and moving pictures. There are currently over ninety collections on the site covering a broad range of topics. It is possible to search across the entire collection or to search individual collections. A browse facility is also offered. The collections can be listed by keyword or title and a brief description is available for each. The collections can be listed alphabetically, alphabetically within subject groups or by material type. Online help on how to locate information from the collections and how to use the search engine is available on the site. The website has a list of FAQs providing further help and information about the project and also offers help for students and teachers on the resources available in the learning page section. The collections of the American memory site provide a fascinating and valuable resource.

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Women's History

Five College Archives Digital Access Project

Five College Archives Digital Access Project website provides access to a selection of material held at Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The material included on the site relates to nineteenth- and early twentieth- century women, and in particular to the education of women. The type of material on the site includes letters, photographs, articles, diaries and official college publications. Details of the archives which have been included from each of the colleges can be found on the site. It is possible to search the collection. The collections of the colleges can be searched individually or together. The search engine will, in the majority of cases, only search the text of the description of documents as most of the documents have been put on the site as images. The site also maintains a set of links relating to the digitisation of archival collections.

Internet Women's History Sourcebook

This sourcebook attempts to present online documents and secondary discussions which reflect the various ways of looking at the history of women within broadly defined historical periods and areas.

The Genesis Project

The Genesis Project aims to identify and develop access to women's history sources in the British Isles. The project is currently developing a database of library, museum and archive collection descriptions from forty-five institutions relating to women’s history. This database is be freely available on the website, along with a list of web resources which relate to the study of women’s history, and includes both British and International sites. The Genesis Project is based at the Women’s Library.

The Genesis Project also publishes the Gerritsen Collection which offers extensive list of websites that are useful to those studying and researching women's history. These web resources can either be browsed in a lengthy alphabetical list, or viewed by category. The categories are archives, libraries & museums, centres for women's and gender studies, directories, discussion lists, general history, groups, associations & societies, publications and subjects. The list is regularly updated and is an excellent starting point for women's history web resources.

American women: a gateway to Library of Congress resources for the study of women's history and culture in the United States

This site, published by the Library of Congress's American Memory project, is an online gateway to the American women's history resources available at the Library. Based on the Library of Congress's print publication American Women: a Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States, the site offers an expanded and fully searchable online version, with added illustrations and links to digitised material. The guide offers tips on how to search for material in the Library's catalogues, detailed summaries of collections and catalogue record descriptions. Also featured are online exhibitions and audiovisual material in the form of lectures, readings and symposia.

Women's History Network

The Women's History Network was founded in 1991 to promote the study and research of women's history at all educational levels. Its other aims are to collect and publish work relevant to women's history, and to establish a database of research and study interests of members and organisations. On the website details of meetings and conferences can be found, alongside information about the Network's magazine, a discussion list, and a directory of courses in women's history available in the United Kingdom. There is also a selection of useful web links, and details of how to join the Women's History Network.

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Oral History

The Virtual Oral/Aural History Archive

The Virtual Oral/Aural History Archive is published by California State University, Long Beach, and provides access to over 300 hours of oral histories concerning the Los Angeles region. This well-designed, easily navigated website is still in development, and currently available are three collections covering labour history, women's history, and the history of the Long Beach area. Each interview has a detailed synopsis and can be listened to in its entirety, or in individual segments. Among the subjects covered are women's suffrage and women's rights, the experience of Japanese-Americans, Mexican-Americans and labour activity in several industries, including the activity of garment workers, oil workers and furniture workers. To listen to the interviews users require RealPlayer, which can be downloaded for free from the Internet.

Talking history: aural history productions

Talking History, based at the University at Albany, State University of New York, is a production, distribution, and instructional centre for all forms of "aural" history'. It aims to provide free access to a collection of audio documentaries, speeches, debates, oral histories, conference sessions, commentaries and archival audio sources. Talking History broadcasts a weekly radio programme the archive of which is available via the Talking History website. The archive is currently browsable on a chronological basis which is not a very efficient way of locating broadcasts. However, Talking History is currently working on a subject browsing and a keyword search engine which should greatly improve access to the archive.

From history to her story Yorkshire women's lives online, to the present

This website, From History to Her Story, is published by the West Yorkshire Archive Service in association with the New Opportunities Fund project CitizenshipPast. The site has been conceived with a range of learners in mind, with a particular emphasis on life-long learners, although the material is extremely accessible to researchers. The site is still under construction, but when it is completed it will provide online access to primary sources concerning the lives of Yorkshire women from the twelfth to the twentieth century. Currently the web site contains mainly nineteenth- and early twentieth-century resources, including the casebooks from the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, and the First World War diaries of Florence Lockwood. The available content can be browsed in three categories – organisation, name, or subject – and all of the digitised sources can be viewed as a large or small JPEG. This is a promising resource, with a great deal of interesting material about the lives of ordinary women.

Regional Oral History Office

The Regional Oral History Office is a research programme of the University of California, Berkeley, working within The Bancroft Library. ROHO conducts, teaches, analyses, and archives oral and video history documents in a broad variety of subject areas critical to the history of California and the United States. ROHO provides a forum for students and scholars working with oral sources to deepen the quality of their research and to engage with the theory, methodology and meaning of individual testimony and social memory'.

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Men's History

RRC Research – Masculinity Bibliography

This online bibliography is published by the Rural Research Centre at Nova Scotia Agricultural College. The bibliography, which is a work in progress, is concerned with the history of masculinity, and is split into two separate sections. The first part contains details of works on the history of masculinity that are mainly theoretical and historiographical. It also includes details of some key works relating to women's history and feminist theory. The second part of the bibliography has a more specific focus and lists works that examine gender, health knowledge, plant management and rurality in relation to masculinity.

Masculinity and Imperialism Bibliography

This online bibliography is published on H-Women, one of the networks on H-Net. The bibliography has been compiled by a postgraduate student, and is specifically concerned with the history of masculinity and men, and imperial/colonialism. The bibliography only contains secondary sources that deal directly with these themes, and currently includes around 30 titles. Users can also find related gender bibliographies on the H-Women home page, although not many of these are directly connected to masculinity.

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Gay and Lesbian History

People with a history - an online guide to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered history

People with a History presents the history of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people [LGBT]. It includes hundreds of original texts, discussions and images, and addresses LGBT history in all periods, and in all regions of the world. It is possible to browse the contents guide to access a series of index pages, which then link directly to the texts and images related to that specific area. In addition to texts, the site includes other study aides, a guide to online bibliographies and an onsite bibliography.

The history of the gay male and lesbian experience during World War II

This website is authored by an enthusiast with an interest in gay history. Although the title sounds quite broad, the site actually deals with the subject of the persecution of gay men in Nazi Germany, who were required to wear a pink triangle for identification. The site comprises a mixture of transcribed primary sources and author explanation, and features a lot of witness testimony. The site has not been very thoughtfully laid out, but as it is small this does not detract too much. Among the areas covered are the Nazi classifications of prisoners, paragraph 175 of the Nazi penal code, which related specifically to homosexuality, and information about the camps gay men were sent to. There is also an exploration of the lesbian experience in Nazi Germany. Users should be warned that the opening page of the website publishes very distressing accounts of treatment in the camps.

Out of the past

This website, which is hosted by PBS, looks at the history of gay people in America. It was published in tandem with the independent film of the same title, which was aired by PBS. Out of The Past explores the importance of history in creating identity, and documents the history of gay men and women in the United States over four centuries.

The main focus of the site is an interactive timeline of events in the history of homosexuals, covering the seventeenth to the twentieth century. The narrative has been broken into six separate eras, and each period focuses on the life of a particular individual and his or her place in society. Excerpts of the film, which can be viewed with a RealOne Player, also accompany the individual stories. In addition there is a resources section, which provides a detailed bibliography, selected web links, a discussion forum and information about relevant organisations. The information is well presented, and this site is useful for those approaching the topic with little previous knowledge, as it provides a good overview of the events and issues surrounding gay and lesbian history.

The GLBT Historical Society

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Historical Society collects, archives, and exhibits material that deals with the history of homosexuals and other sexual minorities. The main focus of the society is GLBT history in the United States, although it does also hold some world sources as well. This well designed site contains a lot of information about the society, with details of membership, and forthcoming events and exhibitions. In addition to this, there are two searchable online catalogues, which allow users to search the archive and manuscript content, and the periodical holdings of the society, which are kept in their library and archive in Northern California. Also available is a comprehensive catalogue of web links, including coverage of other Western countries.

Hall Carpenter Archives

Founded in 1982, the Hall-Carpenter Archives are the largest source for the study of gay activism in Britain, from the publication of the Wolfenden Report in 1958 onwards. The archives are comprised of four main collections, the periodicals collection, the archive of gay organisations and activists, the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive, and the oral history collection. The archives are split across the library of the London School of Economics, Middlesex University library and the National Sound Archive.

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Cultural and Social

Historical boys' clothing

This niche website looks at the history of boys’ clothing, from the sixteenth century to the present day. It mainly covers boys’ fashion in the United States, Britain and parts of Europe. Published by an amateur historian, it is a vast site that covers many topics. These include activities, advertisements, catalogues, changing fashions, different countries, economics, gender, families, hair styles, US presidential families, race, religion and uniforms, among others. As well as the separate topics, there are also a number of essays, although the focus and quality can be a bit patchy. Some of the site is restricted, and can be accessed for a small subscription fee.

All frocked up: glimpses of cross-dressing in Saskatchewan

This online exhibition published by the Saskatchewan Council of Archives and Archivists looks at the history of drag in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan during the twentieth century. The exhibition extends from 1910 to the present day, and looks at male and female impersonation in a number of settings. The chapters cover the tradition of drag in theatrical productions, among college students, and perhaps most interestingly in the general social life of the province, looking at events like mock weddings, parades, sporting events and variety nights. It also goes up to the present day and the role that drag plays in gay society. The exhibition is well designed and features many digitised photographs, posters and playbills.

The thin blue line: the history of the pregnancy test kit

The Thin Blue Line is an online exhibition published by the Stetton Museum, Office of National Institutes of Health (NIH) History in collaboration with the Centre for History and New Media. It looks at the history of the home pregnancy test kit in the United States, and the researchers who contributed to its release in 1978. On the site are interviews with Judith Vaitukaitis and Glenn Braunstein who worked at the NIH during the 1970s on reproductive hormone studies and HCG research, and were instrumental to the development of the pregnancy test. A timeline on the site charts pregnancy testing over the centuries, and the advertisements section features digitised images of several 1970s and 1980s magazine advertisements. Along with the glossary and suggested reading, there is also a forum where people can submit their own stories of using home test kits, building up an archive of first hand accounts.

History of love and marriage

The History of Love and Marriage is a website that was designed to accompany a course of the same title at the University of Leiden. The site is essentially a gateway of web links and bibliographies on a number of historical themes concerned with gender and family in European history. The topics covered are women, femininity and gender, men, masculinity and gender, marriage, family, sexuality, and population and demographic behaviour, and for each there is a selection of web links, book titles and journal information. Also on the site are a number of book reviews on pertinent titles, and a selection of suggested online finding aids for further research.

Married love

This online edition of Marie Stopes’s Married Love is published as part of the A Celebration of Women Writers project at the University of Pennsylvania Library. The website is very simple, providing a transcribed version of Stopes's book, with hyperlinks to take readers to the beginning of each chapter. The book itself is a valuable primary source on attitudes towards sex and relationships in Britain in the early twentieth century, and is a useful resource for those interested in gender and social history.

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