Lilian Calles Barger, Ph.D. (University of Texas at Dallas), is an independent scholar working in Taos, NM and serves on the book review committee of the Society. Her current research focuses on 19th and 20th century social, religious, and feminist thought. She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled The World Come of Age: Religion, Intellectuals and the Challenge of Human Liberation.
A few weeks ago I posted a bibliography of secondary sources for the background chapter I was all but done writing. I don’t usually compose a separate bibliography along with my chapter drafts; the pertinent bibliographic information is in the footnotes. But because I had asked our readership here for book recommendations and had received many helpful and generous responses to that post, I typed this list up so that I could pay forward the favor for someone else who might be working on a similar period or subject.
However, in rearranging my footnoted sources into an alphabetized list, I saw something that I might otherwise have missed: almost all of the secondary works I drew from for this chapter were written by men. Indeed, out of those twenty-three secondary sources, only three were written by women: Leslie Butler’s Critical Americans, Rebecca Lowen’s Creating the Cold War University, and Julie Reuben’s Making of the Modern University.*
That numerical disparity surprised me. Continue reading
Post Updated: I inadvertently left off the final two paragraphs of this post when I put it up on the blog. My apologies to both Andrew and our readers. They’ve been added back as of 3:30 pm EST, 15 Feb 2014. — Ben Alpers
[Editor's Note: What follows is the first in a six-week series of guest blogs from Andrew Seal. Andrew is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Yale University. He is currently writing his dissertation, tentatively titled "Exporting the Common Man: Midwestern Intellectuals and U.S. Power, 1910-1960," which critically examines the emergence and decline of an ideal of American character and civilization parallel to the American Century but derived from the Midwestern middle class. Hailing from Indiana, schooled in the East, and now living in Utah, he is on his way to a regional bingo. He hopes to use his posts to confront both texts that have inspired him and sources that have perplexed him in pursuing his studies and research. I'm delighted to have him blogging for us! -- Ben Alpers]
When L. D. recently wrote about the strange condition of Mary McCarthy in intellectual history—L. D. argued that McCarthy is present but under-utilized in histories of the New York intellectuals—it intersected with some difficulties I, too, have been encountering in both the archive and the historiographical record. For I, too, have often—but not always—found myself on cold trails when trying to connect the women in my dissertation to the larger themes I find in the monographs I admire and the conversations, debates, and narratives they represent. Like McCarthy, they are there, but not there, not obscured, but hidden in plain sight.
When novelists and biographers depict the conjoining of women to grand literary or intellectual narratives, they often do so as an unveiling. In A. S. Byatt’s novel Possession, the crucial evidence that links the major poet Randolph Henry Ash and the relatively minor poet Christabel LaMotte is a letter that has been concealed in Ash’s papers, undetected by the scholarship of generations. A great deal of the novel’s plot proceeds through the figures and facts of letters concealed and revealed, secrets exposed and unearthed, but one way to read this archival drama is as the full canonization of the female poet by virtue of her connection to the male. By this link, she is shuffled into the mainstream of a Great Tradition and out of the marginalized countercurrents of feminist and queer scholarship. Continue reading
In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins argues that all African American women’s “intellectual work has aimed to foster Black activism.” When I first read that, I had the instant reaction of–that’s not the case. Black women think about many things, among them relationships like motherhood and beauty (the first two things that came to mind). Collins goes on to argue that when black women teach their children how to deal with racism, they are engaging in activism–so motherhood as a form of activism.
I was pondering beauty because Juliette Derricotte writes about it frequently in her letters (as I’ve written about before on this blog). Then I read this title passage from The Color Purple by Alice Walker:
“Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to get attention we do, except walk?
“I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing.”
Shug was teaching Celie to rejoice in nature’s beauty as a way of overcoming the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her husband. Natural beauty as a form of activism.
I don’t have time today to write more about this, but I am now looking for how Black women’s thought is connected to activism rather than trying to prove it is not. Or perhaps, I am still somewhere in the middle, where things do not need to be forced to be activism that are not, but neither am I neglecting things that are.
I was asked to give a talk to undergrads about the historiography of race and gender in U.S. History. Given my interests, I have narrowed that down further to “The Course of Black Women’s Intellectual History” (since the Historiography of History was too much of a mouthful). See my prezi here.
I’m going to start with three questions:
- What is historiography?
- Who are intellectuals?
- How have black women changed the historiography of U.S. Intellectual History?
In my prezi, I put these questions on the book in the picture to the side. This is my painting that is hanging in my office and I thought it was a nice symbol of black women’s intellectual history. Perhaps it is also slight self-promotion of my own artwork, but hopefully no one minds. Continue reading
I was visiting Linda Kerber’s essay collection by that name (1997) this week and came across this passage;
“Indeed, whatever topics we were drawn to, everyone who taught women’s history perforce became an intellectual historian. We had to ask what different generations had meant by the terms they used: how they had conceptualized the categories of male and female, man and woman, or how the meaning of the term ‘feminism’ itself had changed over the course of the century. When people in the nineteenth century spoke of ‘The Woman Question,’ what did they mean? Does woman suffrage’ mean the same as ‘women suffrage’? Over the decades, the conceptual questions grew in complexity. To what extent have concepts like ‘feminism’ been implicitly located in racialized standpoints? What is the difference between sex and gender? To what extent is gender a social construction? To teach even the most basic narratives, we had to engage these questions. That was true in the early 1970s and it’s even more true now; feminist scholars cannot ignore theorists of language or historians of ideas.”
It sometimes seems that we take gender analysis for granted and don’t see it as automatically a form of the history of ideas–ideas about self, cultural proscriptions, and the ideas that motivate society. Do you view gender analysis this way? Is gendered analysis the thing that defines the intellectual history of women? Are we reifying gender difference by defining an intellectual history of women?
by Brian M. Ingrassia
As I mentioned on facebook, I got this email last week and am curious as to other people’s suggestions.
“I am an undergrad studying history and writing my thesis in intellectual history. I came across your blog post regarding the dearth of women in intellectual history, and I thought I’d reach out to you as I’ve been increasingly more conscious of this. I was wondering if you might have some time to chat over the phone so that I might be able to able to pick your brain about this topic? I’d greatly appreciate the opportunity.”
I suggested to her that despite (or perhaps because of) my infamous post last year about women in intellectual history, I was not the best person to talk to. I could give her some ideas about women in African American intellectual history (and men in African American women’s intellectual history), but it’s been awhile since I read my exams for general/whitestream U.S. intellectual history. For those more up to date on the recent historiography, what do you think?
The blogging staff of the USIH blog and the members of the S-USIH would like to extend our warmest congratulations to Susan J. Pearson, whose outstanding book The Rights of the Defenseless: Protecting Animals and Children in Gilded Age America (U. of Chicago, 2011) won the 2012 Merle Curti Award in Intellectual History.
The publisher’s website offers a brief summary of this brilliantly-conceived text, and includes a few of the many well-deserved accolades the book garnered from early reviewers. Here, for example, is Dan Wickberg’s early assessment of Pearson’s important work:
The Rights of the Defenseless is much more than an examination of the development of specific policies by humane societies, more than a case study of the emergence of Progressive era reform as it applied to the protection of children and animals. Rather, Susan Pearson uses the very specific concern with these two forms of dependency to explore the definition of rights in liberal discourse; the boundary between person and animal in modern thought and practice; the symbolic configuration of self and society in nineteenth-century political culture; the emergence of a modern mode of linking feeling to reason to action. I do not think it is too much to say that this book will redefine the understanding of the humanitarian sensibility and its place in modern American culture. This is history as an act of the moral imagination in the very best sense.
Pearson’s history is pathbreaking indeed, and we are all pleased that the 2012 Merle Curti Award Committee recognized her truly outstanding achievement.
Susan was not able to accept this honor in person at the 2012 OAH meeting in Milwaukee. She was busy with another outstanding achievement: she was having a baby. So double congratulations to Susan and her lovely family, including especially her husband, Michael Kramer, a frequent, smart, savvy commenter on this blog. I believe they have set the bar for the Best Week Ever for intellectual historians.
At the Fourth Annual Conference of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, the first plenary on the evening of November 17, 2011 was on U.S. Women’s Intellectual Traditions; a panel instigated by conference chair Mike O’Connor and organized by Louise (Lucy) Knight of Northwestern University.
As it turns out, and as some of you know, women and intellectual history has been a hot topic on the USIH blog recently. Lauren Kientz Anderson started the conversation by asking how we should interpret the fact, as she observed it, that relatively few women had posted or commented on the blog. She also raised questions about the place of women scholars in the field. As so often happens in blogs, topics began to ramify. Some asked, and even answered, that perennially thorny question – do women in the field, or even in general, argue or think or analyze differently than men do? Others wondered if the question itself was a red herring left over from antediluvian times, to mix my metaphors.
The concerns probed by the blog about women and the field remind us that the issues and ideas dealt with in women’s intellectual history are far from passé. They inform our lives as professionals and shape the directions that our field takes. As for the role that this brand new society will play in all of this, there are some great signs that it will break new ground. The lively debate in the blog is one sign. Another is the fact that the society’s leadership proposed this plenary. Whatever the past has been, the present is our chance to do things differently.
We also will take up the conference theme and consider how our particular figure used narratives in her work or what narratives about that figure we are revising in our own work.
narrative. Maybe we’ll consider in our discussion tonight whether it is a particularly useful practice for women, in a patriarchal intellectual climate, to turn to narrative, first-person testimony, as a means of establishing authority when no credentials can be had, and of conveying ideas from a vantage point of relative powerlessness.