Review: Her Story, A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America

I recommend the print edition of the book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America, by Charlotte S. Waisman and Jill S. Tietjen , as a casual introduction to the contributions of women in American history. It provides brief descriptions of women and their contributions that may prompt the reader to pursue learning more in greater depth from other sources.

I placed a pre-order for the Kindle version of this book as soon as I learned that it was being published, in April 2012. I believe, as do the authors, that women have been largely overlooked in the documentation of history, and it is important that we include women in the historical record. I was excited to see on January 2, 2013 that the work had been sent to my Kindle. I opened it immediately to read.

The authors have presented the historical information they have gleaned in the form of a timeline. I think this choice of presentation is interesting and useful. They have associated a picture of the woman in question, or of some aspect of her contribution, with each entry in the timeline. The imagery provides richness and context to the materials. I cannot imagine the effort that must have gone into securing permissions to reproduce all those images. There are over 20 pages of illustration credits, single spaced.

As for the substantive historical content, there is very little. Generally the authors have summarized each point in time, and each woman’s contribution, in a small paragraph accompanying the photograph or other illustration. I flipped through the first several pages thinking there must be more, and was disappointed to learn that there was not.

I was also disappointed in the format of the book in electronic edition. I expect that as a timeline, this must be a lovely print book; on a Kindle, it was not well formatted. For example, time periods were distinguished by text boxes specifying the year. These text boxes come scattered throughout the text, distracting from the illustrations and snippets. It would be more accessible on a Kindle if the editor would insert a new section break before each text box denoting the year so that they started a new page. I expect that appropriate section formatting might also help with another issue, specifically the cases in which the snippets relating to a photograph are orphaned from the photo, trailing onto the next page, making it awkward to read and follow. When I open the book on my Kindle, the text boxes designating the year are small, often too small to accommodate all four digits, so that the display shows, for example “160” on one line and “8” on the following line. When I open the book using the Kindle application for PC, the text boxes extend the entire width of the column of text and do not have the problem of being too short to accommodate four digits. Happily, these are minor technical editing issues that could be addressed in the electronic version of the book with limited effort in order to provide an improved presentation for future Kindle readers.

I was pleased to see an extensive bibliography, but disappointed that there were no footnotes or endnotes connecting the historical snippets to their bibliographic sources. For the women I wanted to learn more about, it would be more productive for me to type their names into a search engine than to take advantage of the bibliography contained in this book. This is one area where access to the information contained in Her Story via Kindle is an advantage – for those women whose works intrigued me, it is easy to query the internet for more information or even buy a copy of books written by or about them. Again, this is a book to pique interest, not to provide in depth substantive information. For more scholarly and in-depth reference to women in American history as a companion to Her Story, I would recommend The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History, edited by Gwendolyn Mink, Marysa Navarro, Wilma Mankiller, Barbara Smith, and Gloria Steinem.

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