Zinsser, Judith P. 1943–

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Zinsser, Judith P. 1943–


Born July 24, 1943, in New York, NY; daughter of Hans H. (a doctor) and Anne S. (a doctor) Zinsser; married John E. Lippmann (an advertising executive), December 31, 1969 (divorced, 1983); children: Sarah K. Lippmann. Education: Bryn Mawr College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1964; Columbia University, M.A., 1969; Rutgers University, Ph.D., 1993.


Home—Oxford, OH. Office—254 Upham Hall, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056. E-mail—[email protected]


Brearley School, New York City, history teacher, 1964-68; United Nations International School, New York City, humanities teacher, 1969-93; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, instructor in history, 1991-93; Miami University, Oxford, OH, began as assistant professor, became professor of history, 1993—. Bryn Mawr College, trustee, 1971-77; Columbia University Teacher's College, part-time instructor and advisor, 1989-90. Active in the International Schools Association and International Baccalaureate Office (IBO), Geneva, Switzerland; has worked as a delegate to United Nations conferences for the IBO and also as an assistant examiner, 1983-93. Served as an educational consultant to various organizations, including the World Law Fund, Center for Global Perspectives, and the National Women's History Project. Organizer of numerous panels and academic seminars on women's and world history.


World History Association (member of executive council, 1991-94, vice president, 1992-96, president, 1996-98, 2007,), American Historical Association (committee on women historians, 1980-82, James Harvey Robinson Prize committee, 1982-84, program committee, 1990), Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, Association for Eighteenth-Century Studies (trustee), Journal of Women's History (trustee).


Research grant from the American Association of University Women, 1992; graduate fellow, Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, 1992; UNESCO representative to Ad Hoc Working Group on Indigenous Populations, 1993; Distinguished University Scholar, Miami University, 1994; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, 2000; Camargo Foundation fellow, 2001; National Endowment for the Humanities collaborative award.


Understanding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Schools Association (Geneva, Switzerland), 1978.

Approaches to the Comparative History of the Americas, International Baccalaureate Office (Geneva, Switzerland), 1982.

(With Bonnie S. Anderson) A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present, two volumes, Harper (New York, NY), 1988, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 2000

History and Feminism: A Glass Half Full (for the series "The Feminist Impact on the Arts and Sciences"), Twayne/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993.

A New Partnership: Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations, Unesco (Geneva, Switzerland), 1994.

Men, Women, and the Birthing of Modern Science, Northern Illinois University Press (DeKalb, IL), 2005.

(Editor, with Julie Candler Hayes) Emilie Du Chatelet: Rewriting Enlightenment Philosophy and Science, Voltaire Foundation (Oxford, England), 2006.

La Dame D'Esprit: A Biography of the Marquise Du Chatelet, Viking (New York, NY), 2006, published as Emilie Du Châtelet: Daring Genius of the Enlightenment, Penguin (New York, NY), 2007.

Associate editor, with Mort and Peter Bergman, of The Chronological History of the Negro in America, New American Library, 1969; contributor to numerous academic journals, including History Teacher and Journal of World History; member of editorial board of Journal of World History, 1989—, and Eighteenth Century Studies.

A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present has been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese.


Judith P. Zinsser contributed to the field of women's studies in 1988 with the publication of the two-volume A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present, which she cowrote with fellow historian Bonnie S. Anderson. A History of Their Own examines European history over the centuries from a female perspective. Together the authors explore how changing social, political, and economic dynamics affected the lives of everyday women. Zinsser and Anderson argue that gender—rather than national origin, economic, religious, or social status—was the uniting factor in shaping the lives of women in Europe through the ages.

The first volume of A History of Their Own chronicles women's lives from prehistoric Europe to the end of the Middle Ages. Zinsser and Anderson analyze the lives of their subjects by dividing them into four separate groups: women of the fields, churches, castles, and walled towns. The section on peasant women, whose lives, they argue, remained largely unchanged until the twentieth century, chronicles the backbreaking work that a farm woman endured for the better part of her life—she functioned as a field hand, animal caretaker, cook, weaver, and seamstress, in addition to the usual duties of wife and mother.

The segment in A History of Their Own on women in the church describes the changing status of women in Christianity over the centuries, and depicts the lives of nuns and abbesses who gained a measure of control over their lives and their communities. As a member of a religious community, a woman chose some harsh living conditions, but ones that often seemed preferable to a life on the outside. This section also examines the veneration of the Virgin Mary.

Next, Zinsser and Anderson examine the lives of women nobles who lived in the castles and manors of Europe, and reveal how little power they really held—despite popular opinion—compared to women of less affluent footing. Last, A History of Their Own reveals the varying layers of social and economic status for women who lived inside the great walled towns. The authors uncover the ways in which women gained a modicum of status as skilled craftspeople, but were later forced out of the professions when fortunes and political climates changed.

The second volume of A History of Their Own recounts the changes wrought by developments in European history during the periods of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and finally the modern age. Like the initial volume, this second part analyzes the everyday life for women in all walks of life, and weaves into the narrative little-known examples of women who managed to break from social constraints and forge a more radical identity for themselves. The work also pays heed to the numerous revolutionary political movements that swept through Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and explores women's contributions to, and exclusions from, them. This second volume concludes with an overview of the development of modern feminism; Zinsser and Anderson provide insight into the work of crusaders like the Pankhurst sisters of England and the implications of women entering the workforce in ever-increasing numbers.

Critical reaction to the two-volume A History of Their Own was laudatory if cautious. In a review of the first volume, G.W. Bowersock, writing in the New York Times Book Review termed it "a noble undertaking," but opined that "it would be a pity if it became the standard work on the subject." Bowersock was critical of the authors' omission of more detailed information concerning women in ancient Greece and Rome, especially as the critic felt that these issues later made important contributions to the Middle Ages. Anne K. Mellor, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review maintained Zinsser and Anderson treated the divergent regional cultures too generically in the first volume, but deemed it "a richly textured account of what women did in Europe before 1800, an account that leaves me overwhelmed with admiration for our foremothers' ability to survive." Reviewing the second volume for the New York Times Book Review. Lynn Hunt noted the repeated appearance in the text of misogyny as an integral force denigrating women's status throughout the centuries; the critic claimed that if conditions were really as abominable as the authors describe, then the development of feminism would have been nearly impossible. Yet Hunt noted that "the emphasis here on the detail of women's lives and on uncovering women's own words about their struggles and successes makes this an exciting and moving book," and concluded by praising A History of Their Own's contribution to the field of historiography. "It may only be one possible history among many," Hunt remarked, "but in the form given it here, it is a compelling one."

The well-received La Dame D'Esprit: A Biography of the Marquise Du Chatelet chronicles the life and achievements of Gabrielle Emilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise Du Chatelet (1706-1749). Defying convention, the Marquise insisted on satisfying her own tastes and appetites beyond the confines of traditional domestic life. While she devoted herself to the needs of her husband and children, she also saw no contradiction in embarking either on extramarital affairs or on adventures of the mind. She became a close friend of Voltaire and—despite having been deprived of higher education because of her status as a woman—involved herself in the study of mathematics and physics, carving time in her busy schedule for such intellectual pursuits by working between midnight and five o'clock in the morning.

In Zinsser's view, Voltaire's teasing dismissal of some of Du Chatelet's intellectual achievements was a major factor in the Marquise's historical lack of recognition. In La Dame D'Esprit, Zinsser depicts the Marquise as a woman whose achievements, in the words of New York Times Book Review contributor Caroline Weber, "were formidable by any standard." Modern readers, Weber observed, "will find much that is familiar in Du Chatelet's multitasking lifestyle, which Zinsser … describes with understandable and infectious appreciation." The result, despite prose that Weber found sometimes repetitious, is a portrait of Du Chatelet that "is impossible to dispute, and easy to admire." Zinsser is also editor, with Julie Candler Hayes, of Emilie Du Chatelet: Rewriting Enlightenment Philosophy and Science.



American Historical Review, December 1, 1994, Nancy F. Cott, review of History and Feminism: A Glass Half Full, p. 1651; October 1, 2006, Barbara Shapiro, review of Men, Women, and the Birthing of Modern Science, p. 1244.

Booklist, November 1, 2006, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of La Dame D'Esprit: A Biography of the Marquise Du Chatelet, p. 17.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, June 1, 1993, E. Broidy, review of History and Feminism, p. 1681; February 1, 2006, review of Men, Women, and the Birthing of Modern Science, p. 1034.

Dissent, fall, 1989, Gerda Lerner, review of A History of Their Own, p. 571.

Eighteenth-Century Fiction, spring, 2007, Sarah Hutton, review of Emilie Du Chatelet: Rewriting Enlightenment Philosophy and Science, p. 362.

Gender & Society, December 1, 1990, Janaki Nair, review of A History of Their Own, p. 563.

Journal of American History, December 1, 1995, Leila J. Rupp, review of History and Feminism, p. 1287.

Journal of Modern History, March 1, 1991, Karen Offen, review of A History of Their Own, p. 116.

Journal of Social History, spring, 1990, Martha Howell, review of A History of Their Own, p. 618.

Library Journal, May 1, 1988, Mary Drake McFeeley, review of A History of Their Own, p. 78; October 15, 1988, Drake McFeeley, review of A History of Their Own, p. 88.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 1, 1988, Anne K. Mellor, review of A History of Their Own, p. 2.

Modern Language Review, January 1, 2007, Kate E. Tunstall, "Emilie Du Chatelet," p. 235.

New York Times Book Review, August 14, 1988, G.W. Bowersock, review of A History of Their Own, p. 15; December 18, 1988, Lynn Hunt, review of A History of Their Own, p. 24; December 24, 2006, Caroline Weber, "The French Luminary's Woman," p. 10.

Publishers Weekly, September 4, 2006, review of La Dame D'Esprit, p. 47.

Queen's Quarterly, summer, 1990, review of A History of Their Own, pp. 329-331.

Renaissance Quarterly, autumn, 1990, Guido Ruggiero, review of A History of Their Own, p. 601.

Resources for Feminist Research, March 1, 1989, review of A History of Their Own, pp. 20-21.

School Library Journal, November 1, 1988, Dorcas Hand, review of A History of Their Own, p. 145; January 1, 1989, Dorcas Hand, review of A History of Their Own, p. 106.

Scientific American, February 1, 2007, Karen A. Frenkel, "Why Aren't More Women Physicists? Two Books Look for Answers in the Lives of a Few Who Succeeded," p. 90.

Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, spring, 1991, Robert Spoo, review of A History of Their Own, p. 142.


Miami University Web site,http://www.users.muohio.edu/ (November 10, 2007), Judith P. Zinsser faculty profile.

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