Where in the World is Gender?:

Gender Analysis in World History

While the method of world history is inclusive of wide ranges of space and time, it tends to ignore a large portion of the population. The typical work in world history historiography includes examinations of world systems at the top level or by following the developments at a local level. Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory and McNeil’s idea of world-economies largely ignore individuals, particularly women, in the shaping of economic systems. World historians largely follow the developments caused by elite male leaders or the impact of world systems on local men. Women are largely ignored in the historiography. World histories that attempt to be more inclusive of non-European narratives such as Donald Wright and Dominic Sachenmaier’s microhistories include the agency of particular men in the shaping of history, but still lack gender analyses. While world history is moving toward a more inclusive analysis of the connections and comparisons in history, historians largely ignore the impact women and gender have had on the occurrence of global developments.

The Journal of Global History and the Journal of World History combined have three decades worth of material to explore through data analysis. The publications contain articles that mirror the topics of popular world histories: Eurocentric, male-dominated, but some movement toward more diversity in regional studies. Through a method of distant reading, trends in gender inclusion and analysis in world history may be revealed in the journals.

In March 2007, Merry E. Wiesner noticed the lack of gender analyses in The Journal of World History’sarticles. She attributed the deficiency to the lack of manuscripts submitted.[1] Wiesner asserts that according to women’s historians, “there is really no historical change that cannot be analyzed from a feminist perspective, and no historical change –or continuity – that did not affect the lives of women in some way.”[2] Wiesner believes that world history provides an arena in which gender analyses can be conducted.[3] She concludes by showing that gender historians tend to explore world history more frequently than world historians are attempt gender analyses, but there is room for greater gender analysis in the field. “’Gender’ and ‘global’ are two lenses that have been used, largely separately, to re-vision history in the last several decades. Putting them together allows us to create both telescopes and microscopes, to see further and find new things we’ve never seen before, and to see very familiar things in completely new ways.”[4]

Methods and Sources

This project consists of articles from The Journal of World History and The Journal of Global History. I consciously chose not to include book reviews. If book reviews contained critiques regarding a lack of gender analysis or lack of women as actors, these could act as red herrings. When counting the gendered terms, possible critiques would be counted as occurrences of gender in the journal.

While the journals are both available online, I copied the available html files for each journal. All of the Journal of World History issues are available in this format. The Journal of Global History only has four full years of html files available. Therefore, when comparing the two journals, I compare the years in which both have available html files: 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018. A text document was created for a year’s worth of each journal’s articles.

This project was completed using the programming language R. After loading each text document into the platform called R Studio, each document was analyzed for occurrences of gendered terms and the words adjacent to those terms. The terms used to conduct my analysis were chosen consciously as words that would be utilized in an analysis of gender. The group of “gendered terms” that I searched as a unit included “female”, “male”, “woman”, “women”, “man”, “men”, “feminine”, “masculine”, “femininity”, and “masculinity”. I chose to include terms of male gender in order to find the occurrence of analysis of the male gender in the corpora, as well as the female gender.


Between its creation in 1996 and its most recent issues in 2018, there have been over 330 published articles in the Journal of World History. While creating the corpus of Journal of World History articles, I came across seventeen articles whose titles specifically infer gender analyses. In December 2017 alone, there are five articles that refer to gender analysis in their “Gender and Empire” issue. The corpus of the Journal of Global History’s html files is composed of over seventy-five articles. I found that one article specifically referred to gender.

In order to distantly read each corpus, I loaded the text files into R Studio. I counted the occurrence of gendered terms as a whole in each corpus. Figure 1 shows the occurrence of gendered terms in the Journal of World History’s entirety. While there seems to be an overall growth of the usage of gendered terms, the most prevalent use of gendered terms occurs in 2017, as noted before.

To compare each journal, articles from 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018 were isolated. Figure 2 shows the fluctuation of gendered terms in the Journal of Global History over the four years. The peak in 2016 reaches about 400 uses of such terms out of a total of 700,000 words in the corpus. Figure 3 shows the same timeline in the Journal of World History. Of the almost 600,000 words in the corpus, its peak of almost 1,500 uses dwarfs the Journal of Global History’s presence of gender.

(Figure 1)

(Figure 2)

(Figure 3)

In the hopes to find an intersectional analysis, the entire corpus of the Journal of World History was utilized to find concordances in the data. This establishes what words precede and follow a given term. “Stop words”, common words such as “the” “and” “these”, were removed from the results in order to get a better image of what subjects are being discussed. In the following figures, the variable “n” represents the number of times a pair of words occurs. As Figure 4 shows, when the term “men” is isolated, many classifiers of race and social status are used prior to the term.

Shown in Figure 5 are the words that commonly precede the term “women.” The terms included again show the status and race of women discussed in World History.

(Figure 4)

(Figure 5)


Out of the over three million words in the entire World History corpus, the terms of race and class in relation to gender are mentioned at an very low rate. While some results may be comprised of only a single article’s topic, such as an article on Japanese history that mentions “Japanese men” and “Japanese women”, this does show a variety of topics explored by historians. Overall, the data shows that there are analyses of race, class, and gender occurring, but at varying rates for each category.

While it is refreshing it find that there are analyses in the corpus that study gender and intersectional gender, it still remains a great minority in the field of world history. Based on Figure 2 and 3, the historians who submit to the Journal of World History are granting greater recognition of gender in their analyses than those who submit to the Journal of Global History. As the results of Figure 1 show, gender analysis is becoming more prevalent in the Journal of World History over time, giving hope for more inclusive world histories in the future.


Wiesner, Merry E. “World History and the History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality.” Journal of World History 18, no. 1 (March 2007): 53-67. Project MUSE.

Further Reading

Journal of World History 28, no. 3 & 4 (December 2017). Project MUSE.

[1] Merry E. Wiesner, “World History and the History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality,” Journal of World History 18, no. 1 (March 2007): 56. Project MUSE.

[2] Ibid. 57.

[3] Ibid. 65.

[4] Ibid. 67.