(Ali G glossary here–scroll down for “respek.”) One of the disturbing issues raised in the li’l women’s history and Berkshire Conference hoedown we’ve been having around here lately is that of respek–or the lack of respek, more properly–afforded not just mid-career and junior schmucks like Historiann and Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar, but even to senior women scholars. Go read here and here (in the comments) for descriptions of the two sessions last month at the 2008 International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in honor of the career of Susan Mosher Stuard (h/t to New Kid on the Hallway–thanks, baby!), one of only two women’s historians that Historiann worked with in her entire undergraduate career. (And Stuard taught at Haverford College, while Historiann majored in History at Bryn Mawr! Shocking!) Read those descriptions, and gaze in wonder at the obnoxiousness of a few men, young and old, who are just full of advice for the first generation of women’s historians!
Have you ever met Merry Wiesner-Hanks? Do you really want to be that guy who thought he was schoolin’ MW-H? Or Connie Berman? Or Judith Bennett? I don’t think so. Because even if I could imagine an alternative universe where you would be more right than them about women’s history, you’d still look like a jerk. Come to think of it, you’d look a lot like Ali G! “I was finkin’, that women history, right? Is pre’ty much th’history of bonin’! Of womens being boned by the mens, right? And then servin’ the mens tea, or wha’ever.” It’s funny how our profession, which is supposedly so hung up on rank and authority, isn’t so much when it comes to women with rank and authority. Tips for toads: if you don’t know too much about a particular field of inquiry, then maybe ask an informational question rather than tell the people who invented that field of inquiry what they need to do to satisfy your demands.
Respek, man. Fink abou’it. Peace, out.
So much to blog about, so little time when one is writing pointless books about irrelevant (is it redundant to say they’re female?) people that will nevertheless destroy the historical profession! Taking a break from my vulgar colonial schemes to corrupt the history and memory of the eighteenth century, here’s what I found recently in the twenty-first century:
- The pay gap in academia is worse at R-1s, and it starts at the moment of hire. (Good news for those of you at SLACs, CCs, and regional universities! Right?) The intrepid Scott Jaschik reports that “[a]t research universities, even controlling for variables such as discipline and numbers of papers published and other factors, there is an unexplained 9 percent salary gap that favors men.” Whoodathunkit? Only everyone who reads Historiann.com!
- Teh funny: via Notorious Ph.D., a blind-reviewer voodoo doll. I’m going to buy two.
- Tenured Radical explains (with mostly small words that even the ig’nant can understand) why women’s history is important.
- Another Damned Medievalist at Blogenspiel has two posts up about the Berks. One features a primer about how to get ready for the 2011 conference, as well as some compliments about the conference. (I am sure the 2011 Program Committee will be happy to build on the numbers of medieval panels, roundtables, and workshops featured in 2008!) The other post, Transformative Conferences, features a discussion in the comments about the fracas at the panel in honor of Susan Mosher Stuard in Kalamazoo last month, when a man stood up to suggest that perhaps women’s history was too important to be left to women historians! (As if! Yeah, the men were going to get around to women’s history, when a bunch of women showed up and started making trouble and smearing menstrual blood all over the seats at conferences!) Hey, medievalists: I’ve been hearing whispers about this for weeks now–you have to let us Americanists in on the gossip, too! (At least tell Historiann, who remembers Susan Stuard fondly from her undergraduate days, and whose BFF is a medievalist.) I’m glad they did a panel in Stuard’s honor, and what a fitting send-off into retirement was the learned comment by the Venerable Bede there. Nice work, dude!
- Brett Holman offers le dernier mot on this manufactured controversy at Airminded, which reminds me of that old bumper sticker: “Against abortion? Don’t have one.” Don’t like women’s and gender history? Then don’t do it, but STFU! (It seems so obvious, doesn’t it?) Thanks, Brett!
- Knitting Clio schools Hendrik Hertzberg, and calls out a lot of the bullcrap prounouncements on African American history and American women’s history by the ig’nant class of elites who dominate our political discourse. (That cowgirl knows her bullcrap!)
- Oh, and the sexy cowgirl picture? This one is for commenter Fratguy, who I think has a little crush on the cowgirls here at Historiann. Come and get it! (Here’s a close-up; click the top one for a larger view.)
Happy Juneteenth! I want to follow up today on some of the dynamite panels on pre-emancipation African American women’s history I saw at the Berkshire Conference last weekend.
Researching and Writing the Lives of Unfree Women, Friday June 13. I reported briefly on this panel on Sunday, but want to follow up because it was so good. The room was jam-packed, so that when Natalie Zemon Davis arrived after the session had already started, a thoughtful junior scholar gave up her seat so that NZD could sit. Other senior scholars like Tera Hunter and Elaine Forman Crane were in Standing Room Only (although Historiann tried to get them to take her seat)! The session was chaired by Annette Gordon-Reed, whose work on Sally Hemings (and new book on the Hemings family) is justifiably admired. All of the presentations were interesting, but I thought that these were especially fascinating:
- Terri Snyder’s discussion of researching Jane Webb (ca. 1682-1764), a sometimes-enslaved, sometimes free woman of color in Virginia and her efforts to secure the liberty of her seven children
- Cassandra Pybus’s presentation on Mary Perth (ca. 1772-1800), an enslaved Virginia creole whose life she has traced to Nova Scotia (as one of the “Black Loyalists”) and then to Sierra Leone. Pybus spoke of the frustrations of the gaps in the historical record, and her reluctance to “make it up,” although other panelists said that all history has gaps that must be reconciled, and so they’re perfectly comfortable with sketching out a series of possible scenarios in their writing.
- Sharon Wood spoke about Priscilla Baltimore (ca. 1801-1882), a locally famous St. Louis and western Illinois entrepreneur and alleged conductor on the Underground Railroad. Wood’s presentation offered some insight into researching in local archives, and a guide for people interested in African American women’s history in the western U.S.
- Angelita Reyes gave a wonderful presentation on Vicey Skipwith (ca. 1856-1930), a woman born in Virginia in slavery, who became a landowner after emancipation. Reyes’s work illustrated the sequential connections from freedom, to marriage, to property ownership, and thence to “respectability,” and brought it all home (literally!) with her work uncovering the Vicey Skipwith Home Place and getting it on the National Register for Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. The preservation of material culture and landmarks like the Skipwith Home are vital to African American history, and was especially welcome at the Berks given our emphasis on public history in many panels, roundtables, workshops, and seminars.
This roundtable discussion was a clarion call to get back into the archives, particularly into the state and local archives, do some old-fashioned social history, and discover the lives of unfree and recently emancipated women in order to (in Pybus’s words) uncover the “specificity of African American lives.” Many panelists gave high praise to the genealogists and archivists whose work has enabled their work tremendously. The sources and stories are out there, and they are recoverable.
Surviving Dislocation, Separation, and Sale: Enslaved Women in the Americas, Saturday June 14. V.P.Franklin chaired and commented on two papers, one by Jessica Millward (“Abandoned Lands and Abandoned Plantations: Enslaved Women and Mobility in the Age of Revolution”) and Daina Berry (“‘Young Girls are First on the Stand’: Enslaved Females and the Domestic Market.”) There is no better evidence of the return of social history than Berry’s database of 81,000 slave valuations and her efforts to give us a nuanced portrait of the prices set on enslaved people according to age, sex, health, etc. in Antebellum slave markets. Particularly interesting was her discussion of “fancy girls,” enslaved women who were used as sex workers, and of the self-mutilation (chopping off a hand or a foot) enslaved people engaged in as resistance, in order to decrease their market value.
That’s all for today–if you saw these panels, please comment further. If you saw other great African American panels, please report on those! (I’ve heard that the discussion in Stephanie Camp’s seminar Sunday morning was terrific–but I wasn’t there myself, unfortunately!) I hope you all honor our ancestors and enjoy a nice picnic today!
The image at left is from our friends, the LOLcats. Everyone needs a feminist cat buddy to keep your friends honest, right?
At the Berkshire Conference, everyone was given a name tag on a string by default, which seems to be the overwhelming preference of women scholars at any conference. (We don’t wear jackets all the time any more, and certainly not at a summer conference, so tags on strings are so much more practical.) The only thing is that everyone winds up scanning everyone else’s diaphragm-to-navel region, instead of the mid-chest region, when they’re working the room.
Maybe conferences should just buy 1,500 or so Burger King crowns, and ask conference goers to write their names on the crowns with Sharpies. That would lend an air prankish self-deprecation to the festivities. How seriously could Professor Famousname take herself when delivering a paper while wearing a cardboard crown? (Which eminent scholar would you like to see dressed like she had just hosted a birthday party at Burger King for seven year-olds? Don’t forget the cheezburgers!)
Historiann has promised herself that she’s going to run many miles this morning and then spend the rest of the day in the eighteenth century thinking about Abenaki national security issues, but fortunately so many other clever and insightful Berks bloggers have posted wonderful comments and overviews of the sessions they saw last weekend at the 2008 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women that Historiann is pleased to direct you to them today. To wit:
- Knitting Clio has an excellent post up about a roundtable discussion that I desperately wanted to see, and it looks like it was as good as I thought it would be, darn it all! About the panel called CHILDHOOD AS A USEFUL CATEGORY OF HISTORICAL ANALYSIS, she writes that it was a fascinating look at the ways in which feminist historians are inventing a new history of childhood. She also has overviews of SEXUAL SCIENCE REVISITED: A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION WITH CYNTHIA RUSSET, another roundtable called TRANSFORMING HEALTH CARE FROM BELOW, a fascinating public history panel that links directly to KC’s own research agenda called TEACHING ABOUT HEALTH AND CONTRACEPTION OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM, and KC’s own seminar, WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE BODY? (My only complaint: why does she call her post a “post-mortem?” Women’s history is alive I tell you! It’s ALIVE!)
- Kittywampus has a little blurb about us, directing us to new feminist blogs. It was great to meet you, and I’m so pleased you enjoyed our new seminar format!
- Finally, Tenured Radical has more Berks blogging, from the Complaints Department. Apparently, the notion of 1,400 women and men getting together to talk about women’s and gender history is proof of the irrelevance and faddishness of our field. (Either that or it’s extremely threatening to someone named Miss Mary Rusticus, who didn’t attend the conference but apparently feels extremely entitled to complain about our little kaffeeklatsch. Jealous, much?) Now, while not all forms of history are Historiann’s cuppa joe by the campfire, I can’t imagine the sense of entitlement (or embattlement?) that would lead me to complain publicly about the mere existence of a sub-field of history. Historiann says: let a thousand flowers bloom! And if that’s just not your style, you can kiss my ass.
We at the Berkshire Conference last weekend shared plenty of transhistorical, global bad news about women in history and in the historical profession, so far be it for me to suggest a Whig narrative for Western women’s and gender history. But–does anyone find it a little weird that this story is a stunning newsflash worthy of several pages in the New York Times Sunday Magazine? (Hat tip to Historiann commenter Indyanna.) People, this is 2008. Why aren’t you writing urgent stories about the millions of men who are letting their female partners down by shirking housework and child care? I guess dog bites man isn’t a news story, so we have to go with “man bites dog, then changes diaper.”
Also, while it’s nice that Marc Vachon and a few of the other men in this story help make things work around the house, I wonder if they are really worthy of a 10-page magazine spread? (Talk about evidence of the low expectations that our culture has for heterosexual men! Man Microwaves Dinner for His Own Children–film at 11!) Are decent, thoughtful husbands really like exotic zoo animals? Why are egalitarian heterosexual couples being covered by the New York Times like they’re members of a secretive tribe recently discovered by anthropologists? How do these kinds of media representations of heterosexuality shape young men’s and women’s expectations of partnerships and/or marriage?
More reflections on the conference to follow…but I’m feeling the urge to retreat into the eighteenth century, especially if men like Marc Vachon are Big News in 2008.
Well, it’s been a whirlwind of a conference, and worth the two-and-a-half years of planning that preceded it! The weather was sunny (mostly), warm, and fair. All of the panels and roundtables I attended were full of fascinating people who had great conversations with their audiences. (And those I didn’t attend I heard were also really good too–although if opinions differ here, I appreciate that no one wanted to complain about the conference this weekend. There will be plenty of time for accusations and recriminations after the fact.)
Some observations and highlights:
- Thursday night’s plenary session called “THE CHANGING (?) STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE HISTORICAL PROFESSION: PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES,” was in fact more about the persistent challenges than any measurable progress in the past 20 years. Noralee Frankel from the American Historical Association (AHA) told us about the Rose report in 1970 on the status of women historians, and about the 2005 report–and showed us how we keep making the same observations and recommendations again and again, and how relatively little has changed over these 38 years (Historiann’s lifetime!) The big gains were made in the 1970s and up through the late 1980s and the early 1990s, but we’ve flatlined since then according to Robert Townsend, also from the AHA. He reported that as of 2003, women made up only 30% of history faculty in the U.S., well below our representation among History Ph.D.s (in the low 40s, about what it’s been for the past twenty years.) And of course, there are still more women at the Assistant level than at the Associate or Full Professor rank–in about the same proportion as twenty years ago. So clearly women are not moving up through the ranks as they should. Elizabeth Lunbeck of Vanderbilt University (and author of the 2005 report) made the stunned observation at the end of an evening full of bad news: “I’m struck by how we’ve been drawn in repeatedly” by a progressive Whig narrative that says that equity is on its way, “when the situation [for women faculty] remains the same.”
- At the conclusion of this rather depression plenary panel, I had the honor of announcing a new article prize, the Mary Maples Dunn Prize, which will honor the best article in early American women’s history by an untenured scholar published in The William and Mary Quarterly that uses gender as a primary analytical category. Mary chaired the Thursday plenary, so her complete shock and surprise was visible to everyone there in the Ted Mann Concert Hall. (It’s been such a huge success that it looks like we’ll be able to endow the prize!) If you’re an untenured scholar in this field, sharpen your pencils and get to work.
- If we made a conference documentary, it might be called 2008: The Year Cultural History Broke. (With apologies to the classic grunge rock movie by David Markey. I still love you Courtney and Thurston!) This was an unexpected but fascinating sub-theme of a good number of the panels that I saw and that I heard about: get thee to an archive! There’s lots of new knowledge there just waiting for us. (I’ll post more on this topic later, for sure.)
- Tenured Radical was there, and cross-posting about the conference at Cliopatria. I met Knitting Clio for the first time, too–I’m sure she’ll share some of her observations and experiences at the conference, too. (I hope she slept better at the Holiday Inn Friday night! I wonder who the troublesome guest was, if she was with the Berks…) TR is apparently a big Ramones fan, and Antoinette Burton of the University of Illinois can dance!
- Terri Snyder of California State University, Fullerton, put together a brilliant panel, RESEARCHING AND WRITING THE LIVES OF UNFREE WOMEN for Friday afternoon. Once again, we learned how stupid and untrue is the claim that “you can’t do research on women, especially unfree women, because there are no sources.” Most of the lives uncovered for us in this panel were the result of painstaking research in state and local archives–and their stories should encourage us to find and tell some new life stories of our own. And it turns out that Annette Gordon-Reed is just as beautiful and as brilliant as I always thought she must be–plus, she’s really nice, too.
- To borrow Muriel McClendon’s term for her group of allies on the faculty at UCLA, there were a lot of POW’s (Pissed Off Women) at the RETHINKING GENDER, FAMILY, AND SEXUALITY IN THE EARLY MODERN ATLANTIC session Saturday morning. The roundtable discussion should perhaps have been called, THE PROBLEM WITH ‘THE ATLANTIC WORLD’ PARADIGM. The early modern European historians and cultural studies scholars there–panelists Karin Wulf and Bianca Premo, and audience members Allyson Poska and Lisa Vollendorf, for example, sounded an alarm about the precipitous decline they’ve seen in dissertations and new scholarship on women, gender, sexuality, and the family.
- The reception Saturday night for the journal Gender and History was in the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum, which sits majestically on the Mississippi River. Walking over the bridge from the West Campus to the museum, it loomed in the sunset like the City of Oz. (See my not-great photo at left, and at the top of the post is my snapshot of Roy Lichtenstein’s World’s Fair Mural, which greets you as you enter the Weisman.) What a spectacular setting for the reception–made only more dramatic by lightning strikes nearby as the city got hit by a brief thunderstorm.
I’ll report more later–I’m going back to the Weisman with friends who like me don’t fly out until this evening. Thanks so much to those of you who introduced yourselves as readers and commenters–I hope you’ll add your thoughts and observations below!