Amateurs by choice: Women and the pursuit of independent scholarship in 20th century historical writing

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In the early decades of the 20th century, women's access to the historical discipline followed fundamentally two paths. For the first time, some (a small minority) entered the profession as academic historians; others worked outside or on the margins of academia, pursuing their research interests as independent scholars. What did being an independent scholar mean for these women? Was it always a form of externally imposed marginalization? My paper argues that this is not the case. First of all, being an independent scholar did not necessarily mean marginality. Some of these women scholars exerted a deep influence on 20th century historiography, and their work is still influential today. Quite apart from posthumous fame, moreover, it should be noted that the lack of academic affiliation did not necessarily preclude for some of these women the possibility of recognition and influence during their lives. Secondly, we should be careful not to assume that being an independent scholar was invariably an externally imposed marginalization. Some of these women scholars can be defined as 'obligatory amateurs,' because they were frustrated in their attempt to pursue an academic career. But others, in contrast, deliberately chose independent scholarship over an academic job, and can thus be defined 'amateurs by choice.' What was the motivation behind this choice? I argue that an important factor was the resilience of the amateur tradition in historical writing. The amateur tradition offered a strong counterbalance to women's marginality in academia and a source of positive values and models for their participation in the intellectual life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-219
Number of pages24
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2013


  • 20th century historiography
  • gender and the historical profession
  • independent scholars
  • women historians

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History and Philosophy of Science

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