History is a study of the past. Historians generally utilize evidence in an attempt to understand and uncover the civilizations, beliefs, culture, and politics that dominated the world in the past and how these aspects shaped society in the past, and their role in shaping the present and future. Studying history helps one understand the past, the transformation that has led to the present and prepares individuals to face the future. To an extent, history is rather subjective. Historians interpret past events in different ways thus the need for historiography. Studying historians' methods of developing historical work for academic purposes is crucial as it shapes the academic discipline. Although how historians write history has continued to change, aspects such as periodization and perspective have provided some stability that ensures the subject is on course. Periodization involves the categorization of the past into distinct blocks of time that enable the provision of appropriate terms for various periods in history which have relatively steady features. The descriptive abstractions resulting from the periodization of history are critical to determining the strength of historical perspectives. A historical perspective is the way in which a historian views and understands the past. For one to take a historical perspective, he or she must thoroughly study and comprehend the different emotional, intellectual, cultural, and social situations that shaped the lives and activities of people in the past and integrate this with new perspectives. By so doing, historians can avoid conflicting details even when dealing with historical actors who may have had differing ideologies and beliefs. To help readers understand history better, historians do implement new perspectives, and this changes the way people understand the past.
Gender and Women's History
Historians take different views concerning gender diversity at various periods in the past. One of these periods is the Renaissance. The Renaissance is the period between the culmination of the Middle Ages and the commencement of the Enlightenment era. It is interpreted by most historians as the period in which significant developments in terms of culture, science, art, and economic expansions took place in human life. As a result of these developments, every person who lived then seems to have benefitted. However, questions abound as to whether there was gender parity in the developments. New perspectives, among historians, have emerged to question the various aspects of positive change that occurred during this period. The question is whether every person living during the Renaissance experienced positive change in all aspects irrespective of their gender. According to Kelly-Gadol in 'Did Women Have a Renaissance?', the impact of the Renaissance ought to be based on the quality of experience for both men and women (176). She gauges the effect of the Renaissance in terms of personal liberation for women which interrogates the aspects of the regulation of female sexuality in comparison to that of males; the political, cultural and economic roles of women as compared to those of their male counterparts; and the ideology about women as portrayed in the social philosophy, literature, and art (Kelly-Gadol 176). The Renaissance did not favor gender diversity thus one gender dominated over the other according to this historical perspective. Kelly-Gadol states, for instance, that almost all sources representing the interests of the bourgeoisie 'restructure the relation of the sexes to one of female dependency and male domination' (176). This representation demonstrates that the Renaissance was not an avenue for positive change for everybody. Although historians document the Renaissance as a time when there were significant developments in all spheres of human life, the question of gender diversity still dominates historical perspectives.
The regulation of female sexuality in comparison to the male one is an aspect that brings out different perspectives in history. In a highly patriarchal social order, the sexual behavior of both genders is likely to be different depending on the expectations laid down by society. The social norms determine how men and women behave in and out of wedlock. While there are more restrictions in marriage, the issue is whether the restrictions are placed on both men and women. In her essay 'Did Women Have a Renaissance?', Kelly-Gadol largely utilizes literary evidence to propose that the sexual freedom of women significantly declined with the Renaissance. She asserts that the numerous works of art depicting courtly love, that were dominant in medieval France, were representative of a romantic love that celebrated sexuality, and empowered women by representing 'an ideological liberation of their sexual and affective powers that must have some social reference' but questions the conditions that fostered such kind of love (Kelly-Gadol 181). Men were at the service of women in matters of love since society was non-patriarchal. However, with the Renaissance, chastity became the female norm; thus, more restrictions were made on the woman to tame her sexual behavior and make the man dominant over her. This historical perspective significantly helps in comprehending the sexual roles of women before and during the Renaissance.
The perspective of the cultural, political and economic role of women in history is also an important aspect that needs to be interrogated. This is because the place of women in society has experienced various transformations and variations depending on the different historical periods. An impartial cultural dispensation could provide opportunities for both men and women to develop economically, and this gives them the opportunity to seek political power too. However, historically, women were inferior to men, and this gender inequality has for long hindered the development of women in various spheres of life. In 'Did Women Have a Renaissance?', Kelly-Gadol states that the politically and economically empowered woman present in the middle ages had no place in the Renaissance (184). She explains that the Renaissance noblewoman 'cannot compare to her medieval predecessors in shaping a culture responsive to her own interests' and she seems 'to have lost all consciousness of her particular interests' due to political and cultural dependency (188). Despite being restricted to a social and cultural role, the female had lost her medieval courtly power since the Renaissance had come with secular education that required special skills, and the woman was now under a male authority (Kelly-Gadol 188). Even female rulers, in Renaissance Italy, such as Caterina Sforza, who had acquired power through personal ambition and the Renaissance course of opportunity found it increasingly difficult to maintain their positions due to the male dominance (Kelly-Gadol 186). The aspect of being under male authority meant that the woman was facing a variety of restrictions. This historical perspective sheds light on the developments that changed the place of the woman in the society and how she had to adjust to the political, cultural and economic transformations taking place during the various periods in history.
The ideology of human beings in philosophy, art, and literature is another perspective of history that widens the interpretation of past events. The way in which both men and women are presented in literary works, social philosophy and art symbolize certain historical aspects. Although literary works are highly fictitious, they reflect on what happens in the real society. Kelly-Gadol uses the representation of women in philosophy, art, and literature to interrogate whether or not women did have a Renaissance. In her essay, 'Did Women Have a Renaissance?', Kelly-Gadol refers to literary pieces to demonstrate the depiction of women during the Middle Ages, and the crumbling down of social foundations following the onset of the Renaissance. She states that as the poem Romance of the Rose illustrates, 'the tradition (of courtly love) began to run dry in the late thirteenth-century period of feudal disintegration - or transformation by the bourgeoisie economy of the towns and the emergence of the state' (Kelly-Gadol 189). Courtly love had made women the powerful ladies whom the knights had to serve during Medieval Europe. However, the Renaissance stripped the woman of this power and she had to be subjected to the authority of man. Kelly-Gadol emphasizes that 'with cultural and political power held almost entirely by men, the norm of female chastity came to express the concerns of Renaissance noblemen as they moved to a new situation hereditary, dependent class' (193). This explanation depicts the social changes that the Renaissance brought to the woman; thus interrogating the extent to which the Renaissance benefitted the woman. The implementation of such a perspective seems to alter the way learners of history will view the Renaissance, considering that it was associated with a positive change to human society.
Although Renaissance is a period in history that saw various positive developments in human society, Kelly-Gadol seems to bring a new perspective of the era. She suggests, in her article, that women did not experience a Renaissance in a beneficial way. There was no improvement in the lives of women, unlike their male counterparts who seem to have benefitted significantly from the activities characterizing the Renaissance era. In any case, according to Kelly-Gadol, the social, political and economic lives of women during Renaissance worsened as compared to the medieval times. This assumption prompts Wiesner-Hanks to query, in her essay 'Do Women Need the Renaissance?', whether the chronology of Renaissance events affecting some women can apply to the history of women in general (539). Wiesner-Hanks suggests that 'Renaissance may ultimately not be a useful category when exploring women's and gender history globally, but 'early modern', a term developed more recently, is' (539). This de-categorization brings up a new approach to gender history. Instead of using the Renaissance to periodize gender history, Wiesner-Hanks prefers the term 'early modern' to bring up the most appropriate perspective. The implementation of such a perspective, therefore, alters the way a learner of history understands the impact of the Renaissance to the human race.
Certain perspectives affect the way the reader understands the past events touching on gender. Kelly-Gadol's historiography, on the other hand, is rather limited as it mainly handles the Italian context and attempts to generalize it; that what happened in the Renaissance Italy must have had a global scale. Wiesner-Hanks interrogates this perspective and suggests that the constant debates about the periodization of gender and women history, especially during the Renaissance are no longer necessary. She argues that perhaps women do not need the Renaissance but early modern because 'every development of the era brought change to the lives of many women and stunning transformation to the lives of others, including their lives as women' and that 'the history of gender needs 'early modern' as well, for the Reformations, the military revolution, the 'quantum leap' in global interactions, and many other changes of the era also brought significant change to the lives of men as men'. The point here is that the Renaissance is a narrow term that offers limited information on the progress made by women. Using the term in isolation alters the periodization and interpretation of the chronology of past events affecting the woman.
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