RED ALERT! Representing women’s & gender history at the Omohundro Institute’s annual conference

cowgirlhayoopsFrom the mailbag today, a note from Sheila Skemp at the University of Mississippi:

A number of us returned from the (excellent!) Omohundro Institute Conference in Halifax this spring with a sense of uneasiness.  While the program was truly impressive, it did not include a single panel devoted to women/gender issues.  Given the strength of the field, this is truly troubling.  And we want to make sure that this does not happen again.

It’s true.  I reviewed the program, paper-by-paper, and while there were two paper titles that specifically mentioned women as historical subjects, they weren’t about women’s or gender history:  Megan Hatfield of the University of Miami gave a paper subtitled “War, Family, and the Transformation of Identity in the life of Eliza Pinckney,” and Rachel Hermann of Southampton University spoke on “‘Their Filthy Trash:’  Food, War, and Anglo-Indian Conflict in Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative,” (a subject I’ve written about before, in Abraham in Arms.CORRECTION, 7:45 P.M. MDT:  I missed Craig Bruce Smith’s paper on “Women of Honor:  Feminine Evolution through Dedication to the American Revolution.  That said, there were twice as many men named Craig on the program as there were papers focusing on women with a gendered lense.  Skemp continues:

As someone who has served on the Omohundro Council, and who has been an annual conference chair, I have agreed to be the one to reach out to all of you, urging you–and even more asking you to urge your graduate students–to think seriously about submitting proposals to next year’s conference.

The [2015] conference will be held in Chicago from June 18-20–in conjunction with the Society of Early Americanists. Proposals must be submitted by September 15. . . .

When the Institute first began its annual conferences, it did so hoping to feature the work of graduate students and young scholars.  That mission has not changed.  So please, do, encourage your promising students to formulate panels dealing with women and gender issues, or to submit individual paper proposals.  And of course, please think about submitting something of your own.

Don’t hesitate to write me or [Omohundro Institute Director] Karin Wulf if you have any questions.  And don’t hesitate to forward this plea to whomever.

What is up with this bull$hit, friends?  Historiann takes a year or two off from the conference, and there’s nothing directly in my field on the program?  I don’t train Ph.D. students, so I can be of only limited help on my own.  What’s going on, aside from the fact that social justice issues require continual vigilance and don’t fix themselves?  Are there not enough women proffies at top research universities training students in women’s and gender history?  Are graduate students disinterested in women’s and gender history (or the history of sexuality?)  Did this year’s program committee just not care to include anything on this subject on the program?

It is literally unimaginable to me that the Omohundro Institute, or any major conference, would go forward without any representation of men or men’s history on the program unless it were advertised specifically as a women’s history conference (and even then–the Berkshire Conference always has loads of content based on men as historical actors and subjects).  We know how sensitive people get when men are left out of anything!  If only they were as exquisitely sensitive to the exclusion of women as historical subjects.

VictorywaitsThe twentieth annual conference program was loaded with empires, mariners, soldiers, and wars (from the Pequot War through the War of 1812!), and of course since it was held in Halifax, loyalists, loyalists, and more loyalists!  (And still more loyalists, because that’s the only reason most early Anglo-American historians teaching in the U.S. ever mention Nova Scotia!)

But I digress:  WTF?  Preach!

24 thoughts on “RED ALERT! Representing women’s & gender history at the Omohundro Institute’s annual conference

  1. This, sadly, doesn’t surprise me. The OIEAHC has often seemed to many like a closed club — not something that “features the work of graduate students and young scholars,” unless that means those already connected to OIEAHC. My memory of its annual conference lineup (the OIEAHC links to previous conference programs don’t currently work) is that I often noted the dearth of cutting-edge women’s/gender/sexuality history panels (Historiann’s 2012 panel was an exception, of course!). And then I generally decided it wasn’t worth my time or money to attend.

    If we’re counting: I’d also note that it appears that only 1 of 6 Executive Board members and 6 of 16 Institute Council members are women. Just saying.

    But hope springs eternal: between the recent appointments of Karin Wulf and Joshua Piker, and this public notice, perhaps a new era is dawning!


  2. Here’s hoping. I think the Omohundro offered a tremendous service to young scholars in having no registration fee. At least, that was a huge bonus when I was in grad school & before I was fully employed. But, yes, aside from a few of us who keep bringing this up, it’s very much a boys club.

    Why does this issue persist, even in the face of the goodwill of many women on the Council & Executive Board, (including powerful women like Mary Beth Norton) and a few men over the years to change things? I think it’s perhaps related to the fact that women’s & gender history is still seen as a separate specialty, whereas race for example is seen as something pretty much everyone has to address & have something to say about.

    Women–white women, anyway, are much better represented at this conference as scholars on the program than scholars of color of either sex. An interesting paradox? It’s something I’ve noticed at other American history conferences, and history conferences in the U.S. in general I should say, so the Omohundro is far from the only organization who hasn’t figured this out.


  3. p.s. Also: the Omohundro conference organizers usually, if not always, offer dorm space for students & other budget travelers to help keep the cost of attending on the low side. It’s much more affordable and intellectually productive than OAH or AHA for early Americanists.


  4. Thanks for calling attention to this issue, Historiann. I agree that it’s very concerning.

    While I don’t want to be complicit in “explaining away” the absence of gender history topics on the program, I’ll note the following:

    – It seems relevant that the oieahc only allows scholars to present papers every other year. Since presenting papers is more or less the only conference role open to graduate students, I would be interested to know whether the picture is similarly bleak if we look at several years worth of conferences.

    – Two other conferences within the same month–the Berks and the Women in the American Revolution conference–may have drawn gender historians away from the Institute conference this year. If that’s the case, the issue isn’t a dearth of scholarship, but rather why those conferences were more desirable forums for historians working on gender in early America.

    – Is there a related issue here about junior scholars’ ability to finance expensive trips to faraway/international conference locales, and about which fields are particularly hard-hit when this occurs?

    Looking forward to others’ thoughts.


  5. “I think it’s perhaps related to the fact that women’s & gender history is still seen as a separate specialty.”

    ^^This. We had a long discussion about the willingness of certain male graduate students in my program to answer a question about gender with “I don’t do that, so I don’t really know.” We concluded something similar. Women’s and gender history is seen as something as a separate specialty and something that has been well-integrated into the academy as a whole, which has the unfortunate side effect of allowing some people to decide they don’t need to do it. The result is that out of an incoming class of 18 or so, there are two or three students every year who identify as historians of women, gender, and/or sexuality. Inevitably, they work with the same three people. In my department, one of those people is an early Americanist, but that’s not representative.


  6. And last comment… I think there is also a sense among female graduate students that they don’t want to be pigeonholed as a “women’s historian.” As a result of this sense, some of my friends have explicitly chosen NOT to do a women’s history class for their dissertation. I decided early on I was just going to do what I wanted. I also found myself feeling like if I didn’t do women’s history that no one else would. So… I did it.


  7. I would have presumed that Craig Smith’s paper on ‘women of honor’ would have been women’s history? But this would still appear to be the exception that proves the rule.

    I tend to think that these things happen because people stick to their networks and it’s hard to get a tradition started of attending a particular event where it has no history for that. The big conference I’ve been involved in organising a few times always laments the lack of medievalists, and one year we made a really big effort to have a medievalist as an organiser, to advertise directly to medievalists etc, and we got a good show. The following year, whilst we still sent our advertising to the medievalists and put it on the flyer that we’d like some, we got virtually none. So it seems you really need to keep up the momentum for some time to establish yourself as a place to go for certain markets.

    Of course, this tells us a lot about disciplinary boundaries, and it is worrying that women’s history is not mainstream in early American studies. In my national-century subfield, I think gender is doing much better; it’s now seen as something you at least need to do lipservice to and I’m pleasantly surprised by how many young scholars just include gender in their analysis, even when you don’t expect it to be there (ie it’s not in the title). I also wonder if you look at my conference titles, whether you’d know there was a gender analysis at play? It’s no longer something I flag up, although given my fields of interest, it’s certainly not unexpected.


  8. Feminist Avatar: I completely overlooked Smith’s paper–my apologies. You are correct, and also correct that it’s conspicuous in its singularity!

    Amanda HK’s comments make me really, really sad. This is how it was when I was in grad school 20-25 years ago. (It’s also, embarrassingly, how I initially felt–that I didn’t want to get “pigeonholed,” etc.)

    Gender Historian’s points are helpful in understanding the larger context of conferences this spring. And yes, the cost of travel to Halifax is considerably more for most of us than a conference on the East Coast of the U.S., for example. So many grad institutions are proximate to the big eastern cities.

    Us Westerners always have to pay through the nose to fly east, so Boston or Philly versus Halifax is all about the same do-re-mi.


  9. Dr. Little, you write:

    Omohundro offered a tremendous service to young scholars in having no registration fee.

    Omohundro conference organizers usually, if not always, offer dorm space for students & other budget travelers.

    And yet recent annual conference locations like Halifax, NS, Oxford MS, and Salt Lake City, UT are prohibitively expensive to travel to. Institute programs are indeed generally full of junior scholars. But their locations are chosen by whatever scholar is trying to get in good graces with OIEAHC and is hosting the conference, and impose a significant cost on every scholar trying to get there. Junior scholars can share a hotel room or find a friend in any major city and even cash-strapped PhD depts like mine reimburse conference fees for grad students. But going to a non-hub airport in June is almost always quite pricey. I wish OIEAHC would consider the fact that LOCATION is the greatest inconvenience and expense.

    Also, what do you make of the fact that there are many women on the program and yet women’s history (to say nothing of gender history) is largely ignored? I’m mystified and annoyed too and wonder what you make of this.


  10. I have nothing to add, though I think it’s true that scholars will say “I don’t do gender” in a way they would never say “I don’t do race/ethnicity”. However, I did just see a proposal for a session on “the past 25 years/the next 25 years” in my field that had not only no scholar working on women/gender, but no women! Sigh. I called the organizer out on that.


  11. I think this is part of a broader problem within our sub-discipline — and not one that we can hang on the Institute (despite its well-earned Boyz Club rep). Thinking about Historiann’s panel, which included Karin W. at the Salt Lake City Omohundro conference, in which the panelists talked about how Early American women’s history was being eclipsed by other topics. Many of the women in the room, me included, wrote first books on women and then ventured to other topics. That panel remains salient & the point was driven home to me a few weeks ago, when conferencing with my undergrad supergenius who is determined to get a PhD on early American women, with a special interest in maternity, etc. Not an easy project to find her potential advisors who are not on the cusp of retirement.


  12. Historiann and all,

    I think there are lots of issues here (women’s and gender history skews modern; other conferences last month; fewer historians working on these topics; the ongoing complexity of gender in the academy), but for sure program committees can’t schedule what hasn’t been proposed. Several of us have been in involved in roundtables at the OIEAHC over the last half dozen years, the WMQ-EMSI workshop was on women’s history (Terri Snyder’s excellent essay in the WMQ resulting addresses some of the issues noted above), and the conference and recent WMQ issue on Atlantic families–just to mention a few things OIEAHC-related– all suggest that there is work out there but that we need to be vigilant about staging continuing opportunities.

    So to that end– the CFP for the joint OIEHAC-SEA conference in Chicago next summer is here:

    The panel locator (to bring folks together if you’ve got a paper and need a panel) is here:

    The new OIEAHC conferences website with information on how to apply to host an OIEAHC conference– annual or topical– and with plenty of stuff that’s pretty helpful for putting together a conference anywhere is here:


  13. Let me throw another thing into the pile of problems with “women’s history” as a “specialized” subject—in 2002, when I was interviewing with degree just in hand, I applied for anything and everything US pre-1860. My view was “you never know.”

    My diss title definitely focused on an event that is always associated with (and often only with…) *women*. It was clear from my c.v., transcript, cover letter, and any other materials that I had NO field in Women’s history, no experience teaching it, and never really talked about it. I got an interview at just about every school advertising. Seriously, at AHA, I had 14 interviews and SIX were specifically advertising only for a specialist in Women’s History. This included several very nicely ranked State Universities with PhD programs. Meanwhile, I knew people with real records in the field and great files who didn’t get the call.

    Oddly, only a couple had a woman on the interviewing committee but, most importantly, I figured out quickly that, in reality, these departments didn’t want a REAL historian of Women/Gender. They wanted what I called “political coverage.” They would have someone march through undergrad survey on women but was unlikely to bring *startling new ideas!” or (probably) “encourage feminism among the grad students!” I was complimented every single time on NOT (as one said) “dwelling” only on “gender stuff.” ALL six invited me to campus. Not one of them should have if they were honestly looking for a Women’s Historian. But, they weren’t. (Another school interviewed and offered fast so I didn’t have to accept any of them—I was glad because it was so very obvious what the game was.)


  14. Dutchie: I’ve suspected as much for years! I’m sorry to have confirmation of this. I think a lot of History departments want, as you say, the *illusion* of intellectual diversity rather than the reality.

    Elizabeth Drinker: I know that Salt Lake City and Halifax seem remote from the historical center of early Anglo-American scholarship (a.k.a. the East Coast of the U.S.), but think of what holding all of the conferences between Boston and Williamsburg means for all of the grad students who need to travel from Texas, the South, the West, Cali, etc. I think one of the salubrious moves lately has been to recognize (in Ned Blackhawk’s terms) the “early American West,” for example, and to acknowledge that people are writing and thinking about 16th-18th C American history outside of the Bos-Was corridor. (But as you know, I am self-interested when it comes to seeing conferences in the West and California!) I still think that the O’hundro deserves a great deal of credit for their no-conference fee policy (as well as the pretty lavish spreads they put on at their own expense at the various receptions and entertainments). Try getting that deal from the AHA or the OAH–not gonna happen.

    Karin: thanks for your comments here. I agree that solutions are more important than individual complaints, which is why I encourage people to submit proposals for Chicago 2015. I have some ideas already cooking. However, as CK1inthe405 suggests, we’ve had this conversation before–quite literally 5 years ago in SLC, and really throughout our careers (ca. 25 years or so, so far?) One of the solutions I’m desperate to find is how to stop having this conversation!


  15. Historiann: This post came to my attention via Facebook. I have shared some comments about it there. Please feel free to friend me and join that conversation. I have a direct question for you that I posed in a comment on my thread.
    Best regards, Alyssa Mt. Pleasant


  16. Several non-Native allied scholars who work in Native American history in the colonial period and early republic have reached out to me (publicly and privately) and encouraged me to share with this list my very serious concerns about the content and tone of this post, as well as the comments thread above. Because I value their friendship and take their advice seriously, I am sharing what I said on Facebook in response to the original post:

    “I call BULLSHIT on this so-called *red alert* — MY panel at the Omohundro Institute explicitly engaged women’s and gender history in two out of three of the presentations. And in fact, as everyone who attended my panel knows, I dedicated my talk to the memory of Loretta Saunders, the young St. Mary’s University student who was brutally murdered earlier this year and is one of over 1100 missing and murdered First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women in Canada. But this notice from Historiann is symptomatic of a much larger problem within the historical profession that our courageous Indigenous women historians took on at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women in Toronto in May.”

    And in a comment that followed on that thread I said:

    “Question: what part of “biopolitics” in a paper title doesn’t scream “women and gender”? Or was the panel disregarded from consideration in Historiann’s discussion because the panel title focused on colonial schooling and Indians?!? Seriously. I want to know.”

    Any one who is interested can find the thread here:

    It is now open to the public at large.

    Alyssa Mt. Pleasant


  17. Just sending hello from China to say this blog comes through well and clear if you can get to the internet, which I haven’t been, but have missed it a lot. Back next week. The news from Nova Scotia is sad; agree that the best solution is finding “how to stop” having to “have this conversation.


  18. I’m on the road, friends, using a borrowed computer to catch up here. Sorry not to have been able to follow the convo in real time.

    Alyssa, thanks for your comments. I am not on Facebook, and the only stuff coming up in the link you provided is the contents of the original comment that you reprinted in the comments here, so I don’t think I can follow the conversation over there (but will try).

    I’m glad to hear that your panel engaged women’s & gender history. “Biopolitics” did not twig for me as nec. women’s & gender history/history of sexuality, but I can see how it engages those themes. But is it your assertion that women’s & gender history was adequately represented at the conference because of your panel, or is it that white women’s historians don’t recognize Native history as also engaging women’s & gender history and/or don’t bother attending Native American history panels?

    As I said in my post, I wasn’t at the conference, was alarmed by the email report I had of it, and want to learn more about what happened there. I’m very glad to hear that Native women’s history was so well represented on your panel. But is it really enough? I say no, not at all.


  19. OK, I can see the other comments in the thread you have discussing this post. As I said, I’m on a borrowed computer, and that user is on Facebook. I will try to leave these comments over there too if I can figure out a way to post that doesn’t involve my host’s FB account!

    Given that my first book was subtitled “War and Gender. . . ,” I of course am not arguing that papers on warfare and empire can’t be about women and gender and sexuality, or all three. But the paper titles I saw didn’t reflect any interest in those categories at all, so I’m with Cathleen Cahill in suggesting that unless a paper signals that interest more clearly, I’d assume that it takes a more traditional approach.

    In my reading, the term “biopolitics” is precise and useful, and signals more to do with the history of sexuality than with women’s and gender history. These things should clearly be implicated in any history of sexuality I think worthwhile, but “biopolitics” alone didn’t suggest it to me w/o further modification.


  20. ” I think a lot of History departments want, as you say, the *illusion* of intellectual diversity rather than the reality. ”

    I wonder how much of this is due to a possible apprehensiveness towards feminism that is seen as potentially too radical? There is a geologist I know who is certainly a liberal, supports Wendy Davis, opposes the Hobby Lobby decision, etc, who still rejects the label feminist seeing it as confining. I can see a more sophisticated version of that under operation in some of our departments today.


  21. I think the comments and corrections show the dangers of trying to evaluate papers and panels solely based upon the titles of presentations. Unless we were there and attended every session, we don’t know how many addressed gender in their work even if not explicitly in the title.

    On a related note, I am struck by the apparent disconnect between some of the commenters and the original post.

    Some commenters say that women’s history should not be considered a separate field (even if it currently is). Others then call for more papers in the separate field of women’s history. Seems like treating women’s history as a separate field, rather than as an mainstream part of early American (or any other) history, just serves to reinforce its segregation.


  22. Prof T: I agree that paper and panel titles (as well as a flawed reading thereof, of which I am guilty, clearly!) is an incomplete means of evaluating a conference. But I was alerted to the issue by a senior scholar (not a women’s historian, BTW) who WAS at the conference & whose take on the situation was apparently clear to several other senior scholars. My post here was intended to get more responses & perspectives, not to render a final judgment. However, I haven’t seen any clear evidence or arguments that women’s and gender history were adequately represented on the program.

    I don’t think women’s history is a “separate field” within early American history, any moreso than any other subfield defined by an analytical perspective (empire, race, borderlands, or labor, for example).

    People will disagree about this–much as “feminism” is certainly a contested and intellectually diverse political perspective. The debates over segregation vs. integration have raged since the beginnings of women’s history w/i the American historical profession. Why can’t women’s history take a “both-and” approach, because both (or multiple) perspectives and audiences can be very fruitful. Most of us assume that we can have a history of race that is both about race AND about early America; or a history of the borderlands that addresses and adds to borderlands history AND early American history, etc.? Practically speaking, of course, we all do this when we write conference papers and journal articles for different venues.

    I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time.


  23. It’s been a few weeks since I jumped into the fray here, and I wanted to follow up with some comments that developed out of a very productive email exchange with Historiann.

    I want to make clear that I am invested in opening up lines of communication regarding scholarship among and between those working in NAIS and those whose work focuses on the early Americanist period. From what I’ve seen over the past seven years since NAISA was founded, there are very few early Americanists who regularly attend NAISA meetings. I’m interested in working to change that and toward that end I helped Coll Thrush organize some sessions at the 2014 annual meeting of NAISA in Austin. The standing room only crowds (over 100 people) that attended a linked panel and roundtable on the intersection of NAIS and early modern studies seemed to signal that there is a significant scholarly audience for this work and this discussion. Building on the positive reception of the sessions at NAISA, as well as the successful panels that NAIS scholars based in New England organized for the OIEAHC meeting in Halifax, I am encouraging colleagues to continue the conversations in whatever ways they see fit at the 2015 meetings of both organizations. Personally, I am involved in organizing several research and methodology panels for both meetings.

    If you haven’t been to NAISA yet, I hope you’ll consider attending the 2015 meeting in Washington, DC. Everyone who attends leaves enthusiastic about the dynamic work undertaken by Native and non-Native scholars who are dedicated to realizing the organization’s self-proclaimed identity as “the premiere international and interdisciplinary professional organization for scholars, graduate students, independent researchers, and community members interested in all aspects of Indigenous Studies.” As is clear from this statement, NAISA is dedicated to supporting scholars and scholarship about Native American and Indigenous Studies. It is not now, nor has it ever been, focused on identity politics and I wouldn’t want anything I said in prior emails to be misconstrued in that way. I think this is borne out in attendance patterns: the reason 800 people choose to spend scare conference funds attending NAISA every year is that people are doing smart work, not that they’re Native.

    If you want to learn more about NAISA, please visit the association’s website:

    In case you haven’t seen it, the 2015 NAISA CFP can be found here:

    If you’re interested in seeing the program for the 2014 NAISA meeting in Austin, it can be found here:

    I hope to see you in Chicago, and also in Washington!

    All the best,


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