Who is the intended audience?
In addition to identifying the author, identifying the intended audience or audiences is an important part of analyzing any source. Evidence on women in history can fruitfully be divided into conscious and unconscious sources. Conscious sources are materials that have a deliberate subject or audience, such as letters or memoirs. Unconscious sources are more ephemeral, items that were made for or by women for daily, personal, or household use. All of these can be studied to learn about the varied experiences of women throughout history.
There is a large difference between public communicationdocuments created to be read by unknown othersand private creation. Public communication expanded rapidly with the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, and later with the growth of the bureaucratic state across the globe beginning in the 19th century. Private materials are often created for the author, perhaps a journal or a painting, or for a specific other, perhaps a letter to a relative or friend.
In each instance, the creator of the material works with a particular audience in mind. The imagined readerthe self, a family member, other women, the general publicinfluences not only the content of the source, but also the form. Sources are created to persuade, to inspire religious devotion, to encourage proper conduct, to facilitate the day-to-day business of an organization, to preserve an account of a particular event or a particular life, or to provide statistical information about a group of persons or a historical phenomenon. In all of these cases, the authors motivation shapes the content of the source, and subsequently, the evidence it provides about women in world history.