Expanding Narratives: How Amplifying Girls is Good History

Screen capture of Girl Museum’s home page.

Defining Girlhood

As a guideline, my work defines girls as “self-identifying females under the age of 21,” and it is this guideline that reveals how critical girlhood is to our understanding of the past and our creation of the future. This definition means that first, a girl must self-identify as female — embracing historical and modern definitions, as well as those whose biological sex may not be naturally female. Yet within this spectrum, identification as female has almost universally been perceived as being less valuable than being male. Despite girl power discourse of the past forty years, being female continues to be an experience of social inequality.

So what can historians learn from girlhood?

As someone who has studied girlhood for over ten years, I can firmly say: so, so much — and there is still much more left to discover. My history courses and books almost never mentioned childhood — and when they did, it was a shallow history that saw them as little more than future actors. What Girl Museum introduced me to reaffirmed later readings of Steven Mintz, who asserts that childhood is a vibrant, dynamic experience whose histories are intimately connected to themes now at the forefront of history: social justice, intergenerational trauma, and intersectionality. As historians embrace these themes, we can draw guidance from girlhood studies and embrace our subjects “not as objects or symbols but as independent beings”.[9]

Southern Girls’ Stories

Within the volume written by Ashley Remer and I — Exploring American Girlhood — are the stories of Southern girls — from before the region was called “The South” and up to the present day. Their stories are opportunities for American history to become more inclusive, diverse, nuanced, and — at times — challenging. Privileging girls’ perspectives by focusing on the period of their youth rather than achievements in later life, these Southern girls’ stories are highly accessible, key historic moments — while also showcasing the unique patchwork that is American — and Southern — culture. They are both progressive and destructive, difficult to research yet necessary to understand.

The Work to be Done

Despite publishing fifty stories, Ashley Remer and I have barely scratched the surface. Our research uncovered enough stories for at least a second volume — and possibly a third. Growing from this, we created Sites of Girlhood — a digital mapping project at Girl Museum to showcase the myriad historical sites, monuments, and museums that physically exist to mark girls’ history and culture.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
HistoryMuse

HistoryMuse

Tiffany holds a Master of Arts in Public History, specializing in interpreting girls’ and women’s history for museum, historic sites, and heritage venues.