Some instances of electron field emitters are characterized by frequency-dependent hysteresis in their current–voltage characteristics. We argue that such emitters can be classified as memristive systems and introduce a general framework to describe their response. As a specific example of our approach, we consider field emission from a carbon nanotube array. Our experimental results demonstrate a low-field hysteresis, which is likely caused by an electrostatic alignment of some of the nanotubes in the applied field. We formulate a memristive model of such phenomena, whose results are in agreement with the experimental results.