Why history matters: life and thought

For historian Gerda Lerner, the personal and the professional are inextricably linked. Recently retired from her position as a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, Lerner has crafted a profound and powerful meditation on what history means to her, and why it should matter to us. The essays in Why History Matters strongly connect Lerner's Judaism and her dual roles as feminist and historian: "To be a Jew means to live history," she writes, while Judaism's divisions between the sexes--particularly its denial of full participation in synagogue to women--eventually led to her embrace of feminism and her pioneering work in the field of women's history.

The position of women and other oppressed groups is of paramount interest to Lerner, and the longest essay in this collection deals with her theories of patriarchy as the father of all discriminatory systems. Class and race are other issues that concern Lerner, and they crop up again here in her discussion of the differences between black and white women's views of feminism. Sex, class, and race--all the hot-flash points at work in today's society--are accounted for in Why History Matters. There are connections, Lerner argues, between the violence, poverty, racism, and sexism we see all around us and the attitudes and events of the past. She has spent her life tracing these causes and effects, encouraged by her belief that understanding the past ensures a better future. And that, Gerda Lerner insists, is why history matters.