Power, Eileen (1889–1940)

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Power, Eileen (1889–1940)

Power, Eileen (1889–1940), British educator and historian. Noted for her academic work in the area of medieval history in the years after World War I, Eileen Power's informative books on women's history were considered pioneering in their day. While not the first woman to undertake the study of medieval social and economic history, she became the most widely known because of her ability to engage not only an academic audience but the general reader as well. Power believed that the broad study of history was crucial to reducing and eliminating nationalism and provincialism. To that end she contributed to popular magazines, gave radio talks on historical topics, and wrote books on history for young readers.

Like many of her colleagues, Power was attracted to the Middle Ages because of its contrasts with the industrial age; unlike others she did not harbor any illusions about what life was like during this period. Her style of historical writing was unique in that she used individuals to represent historic "types" as a means of making the distant past easier for the average reader to relate to. This technique can be seen in her Medieval People, published in 1924. Ignoring high-profile individuals, the work presents the era through the lives of six "average" individuals, including a peasant, a prioress, and two men engaged in the wool trade. In engaging sketches Power includes a great deal of background information gleaned from various documents of the period.

At her untimely death in 1940, Power would leave, among other works, an unfinished world history for young people. Several of her lectures would be edited by her husband, Michael M. Postan, in 1975 and published as Medieval Women.


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