The Shared Language of Gender in Colonial North American Warfare

Authored by: Ann M. Little

The Routledge History of Gender, War, and the U.S. Military

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138902985
eBook ISBN: 9781315697185
Adobe ISBN:


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Gender as a category of analysis is vexing for many scholars, but perhaps especially for historians. While historians prioritize the study of change over time, almost nothing in history worldwide resists change more than ideas and assumptions about gender—how we define men’s and women’s roles in a particular society, and common assumptions about the biological fixity of gender roles that make historicizing them a challenge. This is perhaps especially true when we turn to military history, because only recently in modern global history have women been invited to serve in the armed forces, and modern militaries have struggled with their integration. Given the very modest official roles women played in early American military history, some might believe that gender is peripheral to the history of warfare. However, over the past twenty years, American historians have challenged this view with fresh research and arguments about the salience of gender in military conflict and diplomacy: First, some have demonstrated that the contested nature of masculinity is especially rich and fraught in all-male, sex-segregated institutions like monasteries, universities, and militaries, and second, others have shown that women and women’s labor were centrally involved in American military conflict. 1 As we will see, assumptions about gender and the gendered nature of military prowess were commonly held by Europeans and Native Americans in the age of European global expansion, and they served as a common language that was cross-culturally understood in the history of warfare in early America.

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