From Slate: Is history written about men, by men?

'Washington Crossing the Delaware'
Emanuel Leutze's "Washington Crossing the Delaware." Oil on Canvas, 1851, Private Collection.
Courtesy of Minnesota Marine Art Museum

Every week, The Thread tackles your book questions, big and small. Ask a question now.

This week's question comes from Slate Magazine, which asked: Is history written about men, by men?

Slate broke down the history genre by the numbers. It surveyed more than 600 books of popular history published last year, and found several striking gender trends. The findings include:

• 75.8 percent of all history titles published had male authors

• Of the books classified as biographies, 71.7 percent were written about men

MPR News is Reader Funded

Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.

• Female biographers were far more likely to write about other women: 69 percent of female biographers wrote about female subjects

• Only six percent of male biographers wrote about women

So, the numbers do suggest that history is being written about men, by men. Several publishers confirmed this trend with Slate. Lara Heimert, the publisher of Basic Books, told Slate: "There is no question that there is a real problem with gender imbalance in trade history publishing. It is something I worry about a lot."

There are, of course, authors who defy these trends. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stacey Schiff, Karen Armstrong, to name just a few, are hailed as heavyweights in the history field. When you look at just the numbers though, the discrepancy in authorship — and in subjects — is difficult to ignore.

The next step would be to analyze who is buying popular history books. Last January, MarketWatch cited a report from the National Endowment for the Arts, saying:

Men are more likely to read nonfiction books than fiction, while the opposite holds true for women: 55 percent of women read fiction in 2012, and 48 percent read nonfiction.

This would suggest that not only are men writing about men, they're also writing for men, who are more likely to pick up nonfiction titles. That sparks yet another question: Would women be more likely to read nonfiction titles if a greater number were written by women or about women?

It's a trend to look for in the coming years.