Gerda Lerner is Robinson-Edwards Professor of History, Emerita, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Now 76, Lerner is one of the founders of the academic discipline of women's history, an emerita professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison; and author of such key books as The Majority Finds Its Past, The Creation of Patriarchy and The Creation of Feminist Consciousness. In the dozen essays included here (half previously unpublished), Lerner masters her subjects, basing any generalizations on an impressive array of statistics or on personal experience. A frequent theme is Lerner's experience of being driven out of prewar Vienna as a Jew; a visit to Munich in recent years left her feeling "nauseated and defiled" after a chat with a typical Bavarian barfly who still believed in most of Hitler's tenets. The title of Lerner's book has a parallel to George Santayana's famous saying that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it: Lerner finds that "Civil wars and racist persecutions thrive on selective memory and collective forgetting." Hence her horror at seeing a swastika smeared on her university office door. Lerner's words are alive and timely, especially when she points out that the supposed advances made by women in the 20th century have been "grossly uneven" and even have a "nasty edge," concluding that most women across the world live under conditions "as bad or worse" than in 1900-a contention she backs up with impressive documentation on life expectancy, infant mortality, career achievement and more. Now more than ever, readers of history need such lucid critical minds as Lerner's, and this collection is therefore especially welcome. (Apr.)
"There can be no doubting the deep thoughtfulness that informs [Lerners] every page. And expressing this attitude is a firm, forceful, utterly clear and unpretentious voice. Lerner has set a standard that few of her fellow scholars will ever match."--John Demos, The New York Times Book Review "The peace-seeking warrior's summation of what is worth fighting for....Lerner argues lucidly, energetically, and with authority....Once again, her history-making rings out to urge, to cajole, to bring us our past in order to bring us to our senses and sweeter powers."--Catharine R. Stimpson, The Nation "An important, insightful, easy-to-read collection"--Booklist "This moving collection of essays is testimony--if more were needed--to the breadth of Gerda Lerner's spirit and her humane wisdom."--Linda k. Kerber, co-editor of U.S. History as Women's History: New Feminist Essays "Gerda Lerner brings us to the moral Grand Divides of history, then quietly explains where she sees humankind having been, and where, with rational unity, we might yet go. I was fascinated reading Professor Lerner's account of her own disciplined struggle not to hate Germans today for the genocide of European Jewry. She makes it very clear the process is important and on-going."--Alan Adelson, Executive Director, The Jewish Heritage Project "With her customary brilliance and clarity, Gerda Lerner offers us her own story and in the process explains how history happens, is interpreted, utilized, transmuted into meaning and memory, and denied and distorted by those with the power to do so. This book is a gift to all who hope to understand the role of the past in the present..."--Letty Cottin Pogrebin "Now more than ever, readers of history need such lucid critical minds as Lerner's, and this collection is therefore especially welcome."--Publisher's Weekly "This is food for thought for anyone who likes to ponder where we are, how we got there, and what makes transformation possible."--The Boston Globe "Why History Matters is the peace-seeking warrior's summation of what is worth fighting for: what kind of America, what kind of feminism, what kind of history-making, what kind of future. Lerner argues lucidly, energetically, and with authority. Each paragraph is like a stone in a well-constructed bell tower or watch-tower. Once again, her history-making rings out to urge, to cajole, to bring us our past in order to bring us to our senses and sweeter powers."--Catherine R. Stimpson, The Nation "Everything Gerda Lerner says matters....Her sensitivity and her scholarship shine in essays arguing that class, gender, and race are social constructs--damaging inventions that contemporary thought is trying to dismantle."--The New Yorker
This collection of essays provides a succinct introduction to the life and thought of Lerner (history, emerita, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison; The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, LJ 4/15/93), one of the founders and foremost scholars of women's history. In these 12 essays, some new and some reworked from earlier speeches, Lerner offers what is essentially her intellectual autobiography. Each essay is enriched by keen insight, clarity, meticulous scholarship, and Lerner's personal experience as a Jewish woman who emigrated from Austria to the United States at the beginning of the Holocaust. Her themes include emigration and acculturation, nonviolent resistance, American values, and the historian's approaches to gender, race, and class. Representing the mature thought of a premier scholar, this work will be an important addition to reading lists in social history. It should also be of interest to social policy practitioners and general readers.‘Linda V. Carlisle, Southern Illinois Univ., Edwardsville