Two works published in 1984 demonstrate contrasting approaches to writing the history of United States women. Buel and Buel's biography of Mary Fish (1736–1818) makes little effort to place her story in the context of recent historiography on women. Lebsock, meanwhile, attempts not only to write the history of women in one southern community, but also to redirect two decades of historiographical debate as to whether women gained or lost status in the nineteenth century as compared with the eighteenth century. Although both books offer the reader the opportunity to assess this controversy regarding women's status, only Lebsock's deals with it directly. She examines several different aspects of women's status, helping to refine and resolve the issues. She concludes that while women gained autonomy in some areas, especially in the private sphere, they lost it in many aspects of the economic sphere. More importantly, she shows that the debate itself depends on frame of reference: in many respects, women lost power in relation to men, for example, as certain jobs (delivering babies, supervising schools) were taken over by men. Yet women also gained power in comparison with their previous status, owning a higher proportion of real estate, for example. In contrast, Buel and Buel's biography provides ample raw material for questioning the myth, fostered by some historians, of a colonial golden age in the eighteenth century but does not give the reader much guidance in analyzing the controversy over women's status.
The primary purpose of the passage is to
examine two sides of a historiographical debate
call into question an author's approach to a historiographical debate
examine one author's approach to a historiographical debate
discuss two authors' works in relationship to a historiographical debate
explain the prevalent perspective on a historiographical debate