I put my pennyworth last week into a discussion in the Guardian about women and history writing, which was itself a follow up to an article a few weeks ago on a similar theme. The prompt was some recent statistics from the US and the UK on authorship of, and sales figures for, popular history writing, which showed not only how far the output was gender divided, but generally how many fewer books women historians sold than men. You can find some of the stats if you click on the earlier article. But an extra gloomy one was produced by the Bookseller, which tabulated the 50 top earning 'history and military' UK books since Nielsen Bookscan records began (about 20 years ago). 49 out of the top 50 were by men. The top 10 go like this:
Schama, History of Britain vol 1; Beevor, Stalingrad; Ackroyd, London; MacGregor, 100 objects; Beevor, Berlin the downfall 1945; Ambrose, Band of Brothers, E company, 506th regiment; Beevor, D Day; Schama, History of Britain, 2, British Wars; Hastings, All Hell let loose, The world at War 1939-45.
Excellent books, but you see what I mean.
Now quite a number of commentators on the article, above and below the line, wanted to insist that there really were great women historians, popular and academic. But that seemed to me to miss the point rather. Of course it's true, there are some wonderful and eloquent female historians; but however wondeful and eloquent they are, their books are simply not selling as much. And it's worth asking why that might be.