First, a quick report: I'm back from a conference in Chicago, which was lovely. I didn't get to play tourist like I had planned (Interesting Development begged off the trip to stay home and write), but I did see a number of interesting papers, and made a couple of good contacts, including some young scholars working in the same field as I, and one senior scholar who has agreed to read my MS. So that's good.
Since returning, I've been reading about various forms of violence perpetrated against women. My route to women's history was a convoluted one, and I'll blog about that at some point, but I think that it's fair to say that those of us working on gender topics, perhaps more so than most, do it out of a sense of personal investment: we want to understand the history of the constructs that in many ways constrain our own experience.
This can be wonderfully enlightening, and even liberating to realize that it's not about you in particular. But it can also be horribly depressing to see the same patterns played out, century after century [NB: yes, I was poking at Bennett's History Matters again -- another thing I'll have to blog about].
Even more unsettling is when you see things you can identify with, either in whole or in part. The shock of recognition can be overwhelming at times: one does not want to feel tears welling up when one is reading at one's perch at a coffee shop table, but sometimes there's nothing one can do about it.
So, in these situations, am I supposed to maintain historical detachment? Does knowledge of a personal connection to my research make me a better historian, or a worse one?