Archive for June, 2008

June 18th 2008
What’s in a name tag?

Posted under Berkshire Conference & conferences


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!)


June 18th 2008
Sayyid Qutb on my “dreamy garden”

Posted under American history & book reviews & Dolls & local news

I’ll return to more Berks blogging soon, but this was too good not to pass on:  a colleague of mine is reading and translating an Arabic volume of letters and other writings by Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb, the man who went on to write America as I Have Known It, and to become one of the intellectual fathers of contemporary radical Islam.  He recently sent along this quotation:  “And this is the small city of Greeley in which I’m now staying.  Indeed, it is beautiful, beautiful, giving the impression of a germinating plant in a dreamy garden.  Every house is like a shoot in a field, and each street is a path to a garden,” quoted in Salah ‘Abd al-Fatah al-Khalidi, Amrika min al-Dakhil bi Nizar Sayyid Qutb (Jidda: 1986), 60-1.

NPR did an in-depth exploration of the history of Greeley as a utopian temperence colony, and of Qutb’s stay in Greeley in the 1940s, (recording available here) where he studied at Colorado State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Colorado.  Regular readers know that Greeley is referred to as “Potterville” at  It may have been here in Greeley that Qutb became convinced that Americans were shallow, materialistic, sexually immoral, and spiritually impoverished.  For those who knew Greeley in the 1940s–or even for those who know the town today–this comes as something of a surprise!  (Well, at least the sexually immoral part.  It’s not all bad:  you can get a lot of work done and save a lot of money living in boring small-town America.)

I must say that landscaping and watering the high plains desert until it looks like southeastern Pennsylvania is troubling from a sustainability perspective, but it gets some pretty good results.  Qutb would be impressed!  Here are some photos from my garden on Tuesday afternoon–poppies and bachelor buttons on top, roses and more roses in the second and fourth photos, and snapdragons and yarrow in the third photo.  The roses are really abundant this year–and, unlike roses anywhere else in the world, they’re a no-maintenance garden standby here.  Just cut them back in late winter or early spring, feed them bone and blood meal 2-3 times, and admire the view.  (And yes, that’s Creepy Doll Head below, on a stake, standing guard over my herb garden with roses as a backdrop!)


June 17th 2008
Berkshire roundup: rodeo girls won’t you come out tonight?

Posted under Berkshire Conference & childhood & Gender & the body & wankers & women's history

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.


June 16th 2008
BREAKING: Man shares parenting, housework equally with wife!

Posted under Berkshire Conference & Gender & women's history

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.


June 15th 2008
The 2008 Berkshire Conference: The Year Cultural History Broke?

Posted under American history & art & Berkshire Conference & European history & women's history

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!


June 12th 2008
They’re playin’ my song…

Posted under Gender & jobs

See this story on “Gender Equity in Academia: Bad News From the Trenches, and Some Possible Solutions,” based on interviews with senior women faculty at UC Irvine.  Discuss.

This is something that may come up in our plenary panel tonight on the status of women.


June 11th 2008
A short history of the Berkshire Conference

Posted under Berkshire Conference & women's history

I’m off before dawn tomorrow morning to catch my flight to the Berkshire Conference, the triennial “Big Berks” that I’ve assisted in planning and organizing for the past two years.  The following is excerpted from the 2008 program of the Fourteenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, pp. 4-5:

“The Berks” did not always mean the triennial conference on women’s history. In fact, you may hear that gathering called the“Big Berks” to distinguish it from the original group, now known informally as the “Little Berks.”

The “Little Berks” is the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians.  It differs from the Big Berks—the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women—in three major ways. First, it is much older. It had its genesis when two women historians on the train home from the 1929 American Historical Association convention in Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina, spoke of how they had enjoyed talking to other women historians there and how they could create more opportunities for what we now call “networking.” By this time a few women were serving on AHA committees including the Program Committee; they had been allowed since 1917 to attend the “smoker” after the Presidential address, although few felt welcome enough actually to do so; and seven of them presented papers at the 1929 meeting. Nevertheless, they were excluded from other events, like the informal weekend retreats organized by Executive Director J. Franklin Jameson, and they felt the need for “comradeship in our craft” with other women. In May 1930 they began to hold weekend retreats at inns in New York State and Massachusetts for women historians teaching at women’s colleges in the Northeast.

In 1936, the group who had been coming to these meetings constituted themselves the Berkshire Historical Conference, later amended to the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. The second difference between the Big and Little Berks lies in the meaning of the word “conference” in each name. The Big Berks is a meeting at which people present papers; the Little Berks is a group.  Its annual meetings are weekend retreats at which hiking, conversation, and socializing are among the main activities, along with a business meeting, discussions of issues in the profession, and traditionally a scholarly presentation from one of its members after dinner.  Among the activities of the Little Berks is the planning and organization of the Big Berks, which it sponsors every three years.  It also sponsors gatherings at major historical conferences throughout the year, and it awards annual prizes for the best first book and the best article in history written by a woman. It funds fellowships for graduate students through the Coordinating Council for Women in History (the CCWH/Berkshire Graduate Student Award). It advocates for women in academia in general and the historical profession in particular, and it works with regional women’s history organizations in order to do so. In 1989 the Berkshire Conference helped to coordinate the historians’ amicus curiae brief before the Supreme Court in support of Roe v. Wade.

The third difference is perhaps the most obvious yet often overlooked.  Not all scholars of women’s history are women, and not all women historians work on women’s history. The Berkshire Conference on the History of Women (Big Berks) exists to promote the study of women’s history by all historians of whatever gender, while the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians (Little Berks) exists to promote the status of women in the profession and to promote friendships among women historians, whatever their field of study.

Hope to see some of you in Minneapolis!  Do introduce yourself if you happen to see me.  For those of you who can’t come, check in with Tenured Radical, who will be posting through the conference.  (She promises that “something good always happens at the dance” on Saturday night.  We’ll see!  Today, TR helpfully provided a gloss of some of the more recent history of the Berkshire Conferences, both Little and Big.)  I probably won’t have the time to post, so consider this an open thread on the Berkshire Conference, and perhaps I’ll be able to stop by and leave some updates in the comments.


June 11th 2008
Bad news/good news round-up, yee haw!

Posted under Berkshire Conference & book reviews & class & jobs & students & women's history

The weather here in Potterville is gorgeous–Historiann’s roses, irises, lupines, poppies, and bachelor’s buttons are blooming–it’s almost too perfect, so let’s have a little bad news today to wash down with our daily cup o’brimstone, shall we?

  • Bad news:  Frank Donoghue says that as much as we bitch and moan about our jobs (if we have them) and the job market in academia, we’re living in the not-so-golden age as The Last ProfessorsHe makes the daring prediction that we’re on the slippery slope to hell, and that the corporitization of the university can’t be reversed.  Says Donoghue:  “The tenure-track professoriate will never be restored. . . . [T]he hiring of adjuncts continues to outpace the hiring of tenure-track professors by a rate of three to one. It’s silly to think we can reverse the trend toward casualization when, despite a great deal of attention and effort, we can’t even slow it down. . . . Much as it pains me to say it, I never considered putting a question mark at the end of my title, The Last Professors.”
  • Good news:  Via Inside Higher Ed, the Big Dog says he won’t speak at UCLA’s commencement, out of respect for AFSCME’s unresolved contract with the university. 
  • Bad news:  Student newspaper shuttered after publishing photo of a buring U.S. flag.  Oh, grow up, school administrators!  What’s the point of student newspapers, if not to publish occasionally stupid and juvenile stories and photos?  Giving students a publication and then getting all hopped up because they publish something dumb is like handing kids a firecracker and then getting angry when they light it up.  Guess what?  By shutting down the paper, you’re making this story a bigger issue than it would have been had you ignored it!  Did it not occur to you that the people who write for major U.S. dailies are the kinds of people who used to work on their high school newspaper, and that they might find an otherwise silly local story like this newsworthy?  Jackasses.
  • Good news: the later week/weekend forecast for Minnapolis is improving, with only 20-30 percent “chances” of showers and thunderstorms Thursday through the rest of the weekend.  Still, those of you who will be at the Berkshire Conference are well advised to be prepared for anything–so bring your raincoat and sunscreen, too.  (For a few years after moving to Colorado, I drove around with an umbrella in my car, which made me an eccentric; after living here for a while now, I completely forget that it rains anywhere else in the world, which makes me an idiot!)


June 10th 2008
Odd ducks

Posted under Uncategorized

I thought I heard a duck quacking suspiciously near my open office window this morning, but I didn’t think anything of it, because there’s a pond in a park one block away, and we hear quacking and honking all of the time, all year long.  But just a few minutes ago, my next-door-neighbor rang the doorbell, and who was standing there with her but the duck in question, bold as brass, quacking loudly whenever my neighbor threatened to walk away and return to her window-washing. 

I’ve seen this duck before–ze’s an odd little farm duck who apparently isn’t welcome among the other birds down at the park.  (Most of them are very cool Mallards and Canada Geese who are busy raising their little families this time of year.)  This duck seems to be very comfortable with humans–ze let my neighbor pet hir, and quacked in protest when I went back inside.  Ze might be flight impaired–I’ve never seen hir fly, and believe that ze must have walked down the street to our yards!  Poor thing.


June 10th 2008
Childbirth, motherhood, and the maternal body

Posted under Berkshire Conference & the body & women's history

Since my post OB/GYNs, Ourselves was so popular (or at least inspired a very interesting debate in the comments), I thought I would let you all know about some of the large number of sessions we’re featuring at the 2008 Berkshire Conference this weekend on the subject of childbirth, motherhood, and the maternal body.  As anyone working in women’s history knows, the history of the body and the history of sexuality have been really big lately, and they’ve given birth (so to speak) to books, articles, and conference papers on the broad subject of maternity.  Here are some very interesting examples:

Saturday, June 13, 8:30 a.m.


Chair: Jacqueline H. Wolf, Ohio University

Comares: Mothers, Midwives, and Wetnurses in Late Medieval Valencia

Debra Gene Blumenthal, University of California, Santa Barbara

The Anatomy of Eve: Imagining the Maternal Body in 16th-Century Germany

Kathleen Maisie Crowther, University of Oklahoma

Examining the Wetnurse: Theory and Practice in Medical Texts of the 12th and 13th Centuries

William F. MacLehose, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Comment: Rebecca Lynn Winer, Villanova University



Chair: Elizabeth Watkins, University of California, San Francisco

In Their Best Interests: Social Science, Feminism, and the Revaluing of Working Mothers in the 1960s

Elizabeth More, Harvard University

Mixers and Moulders: Neo-Evangelical Models of American Motherhood, 1943-1960

Eliza Young, Harvard University

Mother’s Milk without Mother’s Body: A History of the Late 20th-Century Milk Bank

Kara Swanson, Harvard University

Comment: Janet Golden, Rutgers University, New Brunswick



Chair: Rebecca M. Kluchin, California State University, Sacramento

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: The Maternal Body in Contemporary Art

Rachel Epp Buller, Independent Scholar

(Re-) addressing the Maternal Body: Representations of Motherhood, Modernization, and the Roots of Public Health in Chile

Jadwiga Pieper Mooney, University of Arizona

“Baby Factories” and Squatting “Primitives”: Laboring Bodies in Mid 20th-Century Representations of Natural Childbirth

Jane Simonsen, Augustana College

Comment: Cheryl Lemus, Northern Illinois University

Ann Simonsen Oswood, The Childbirth Collective


Saturday, June 13, 11 a.m.


Chair: Anna R. Igra, Carleton College

Enforcing Dependency: Immigrant Mothers and Health Care Access

Lisa Sun-Hee Park, University of California, San Diego

Begging a Different Memory: Revisionary Images of Mothers in Rickie Solinger’s Beggars and Choosers

Ruby Tapia, Ohio State University

Child Care Choices: Mothers, the Market, and Federal Policy
Elizabeth Rose, Central Connecticut State University
Comment: Assata Zerai, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Since the conference starts on Thursday, and I’ve got official responsibilities pretty much every day all day long, I don’t think I’ll be able to blog about the conference.  However, a past U.S. and Canadian history Program Committee co-Chair will be blogging the Berks, so those of you who can’t be with us in Minneapolis can check in with Tenured Radical for news, views, gossip, and scandal!  (Well, I doubt that there will be scandal, or if there is, I hope that it won’t involve Historiann!) 


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