Archive for the 'Intersectionality' Category

November 29th 2012
CFP, Early American Studies: Beyond the Binaries

Posted under American history & Gender & GLBTQ & happy endings & Intersectionality & the body & women's history

“The Publick Universal Friend”

Last week I received this call from Rachel Hope Cleves at the University of Victoria for a special issue of Early American Studies she’s editing on the subject of “Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America:”

Deadline for Proposal: 31 January 2013
            In a 1993 article in Sciences, biologist and historian Anne Fausto-Sterling provocatively argued that human sex could not be neatly divided into two simple categories, men and women. Instead, she recommended a five-part system of categorization, including men, women, merms, ferms, and herms. At the time of publication, Fausto-Sterling’s tongue-in-cheek proposal provoked more criticism than applause, but in the past two decades scholars in a wide range of disciplines, from neuroscience to gender studies, have added evidence to her assertion that binary sex categories are not a biological rule. With a few exceptions, however, historians of early America have been slow to question the binary of man and woman. In the uproar provoked by her proposal, few recall that Fausto-Sterling began her article not with a headline grabbed from the daily papers, but with an historical example dating to 1840s Connecticut.
            Now, recent work by historians including Elizabeth Reis, Clare Sears, and Peter Boag, indicates a growing attention to the instability of sex in early America. Their studies illuminate the existence and social knowledge of individuals whose bodies, gender identities, and desires defied neat divisions. Moreover, these works provoke questions about the coherence of the binary sex categories that historians assume as foundational. What did it mean to be a woman or a man in early America, if, as Reis points out, in 1764 a thirty-two year old woman named Deborah Lewis could change sex, becoming a man named Francis Lewis, and live for another six decades as an accepted patriarch within his community? How fixed were sex identities in early America? What possibilities existed for the expression of gender identities that stood at variance with embodied sex? What social practices created opportunities for the blending and rearrangement of sex identities? How did hierarchies of race and class destabilize or re-stabilize sex binaries? Should “men” and “women” be understood as variable rather than unitary categories?
          To encourage these questions, and others like them, Early American Studies invites proposals for essay submissions on the theme of “Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America” for a special issue to be published in fall 2014. Continue Reading »

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November 22nd 2012
Mentoring and Mojitos: reflections on the 2012 Gay-S-A

Posted under American history & happy endings & Intersectionality & jobs & women's history

Well, well, well–we finally pulled up to the ranch late on Sunday night, but with all of the stall-mucking and fence-riding to be done, as well as another holiday to prepare for, I’ve had no time at all to blog about the great time and intense learning that was the 2012 Gay-S-A in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I won’t bore you with the specifics of the intellectual conversations that I had, but rather will instead entertain you with a “slice of life” overview of the conference that will perhaps offer some useful strategies for those of you prepping for MLA, AHA, or the other large disciplinary conferences that will meet in the next few months.  (Tenured Radical, Madwoman with a Laptop, and GayProf have all beat me to the conference round-up, so you can go there for the intelleckshul content.  This blog post is–mostly–a bagatelle, a lagniappe if you will–just for fun.)

Among the many interesting things I learned:

  • You can make new friends and impress important people if you show up at a graduate student panel at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning.  I don’t want to go into it, but you can get a (perhaps undeserved) reputation for being a decent person for doing something like that, something you might have done anyway just because you were interested in hearing the papers.  Shhhhh!!!
  • This may be especially important if you disappointed a lot of people at your panel.  The panel was a great success, especially for a first-day, almost first-thing in the morning panel.  But as I whispered to GayProf as we were being introduced, “I have the feeling that thirty people in this room are disappointed, thinking ‘that’s not what I thought he/she looked like!’”
  • I like to go swimmin’ with bare-naked women and swim between their legs.  True!  (And that naked woman will apparently be me this weekend, because I foolishly left my brand-new bathing suit in the hotel bathroom.  Oh well–I didn’t like the bottoms, although the top was super-cute–see photo below.)  And it’s also true that you can have substantial intellectual conversations and engage in serious problem-solving while swimming in the ocean or pool, and while sitting around afterwards in your bathing suit or sundress.  I think this might be due to the fact that it’s difficult to be pretentious or cagey when you’re only half-dressed (or worse.) Continue Reading »

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August 30th 2012
Women’s and gender history has menstrual blood smeared all over it. If you read this post, you too will be contaminated.

Posted under American history & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & jobs & race & women's history

George Catlin, “Comanche Village, Women Dressing Robes and Drying Meat,” 1834-35

UPDATED BELOW

I am so tired of reading “new” histories of the North American borderlands and “new” conceptualizations of “empire” that read  just like anything that Francis Parkman or Frederick Jackson Turner ever wrote, except minus the racism.  Now, that “minus the racism” part is important, don’t get me wrong.  But is it really an intervention for which modern historians should be congratulated when we assume that historical Native Americans were rational and had their own politics?

Having read a whack of recent histories that address the Great Basin and Great Plains in the past few years, a region whose economy was based in large part on the trade in bodies and the labor of female slaves from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, I want to hear more about these captive women and less about the men who lead those raids and profit from stealing, raping, exploiting, and/or reselling those women.  Every author alive today makes this point in his book–and yet, that’s just about the extent of his analysis.  I want books written from the perspective of these women and girls, not more books written from the perspective of the dudes on the horses, whether those dudes are European, Euro-American, or Native American.  Didn’t we get enough of those books about the manly exploits of armed and mounted men in the nineteenth century? Continue Reading »

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April 5th 2012
Sex preferences among expectant parents: are they antifeminist?

Posted under childhood & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & race & women's history

Via Bridget Crawford at Feminist Law Profs, we learn of a trend observed by Erin KLG at 5 Cities, 6 Women

[T]here’s a trend I’ve noticed lately that gets me as teary …. It’s this: when pregnant women – smart, funny, fierce women I respect – say they don’t want daughters. Some even take to their Facebook pages to rejoice, at approximately 20 weeks, when they find out it’s a boy instead of a girl – or, in the case of one person I know, updates her status to complain specifically about the disappointment of having a girl.

I find these women fall into two camps:

#1: “I don’t want a daughter because girls are harder to raise than boys.  Variations on this: “Girls are so moody and dramatic” or “Girls are manipulative and dangerous” or “Girls are easy when they’re young but watch out when they’re teenagers! Hoo boy!” or the ironic “Girls are too girly. I just can’t get into that stuff.” I cannot explain these women. I’m sorry. The best I can figure is that they dislike themselves, their sister, their mother, or someone else with a vagina, based on past experience, and the thought of producing another creature of the female variety makes their brain short and they say stupid things like, “Girls are just, I don’t know, harder on you emotionally.”. . . Really, you should pity these women. Show them kindness. Love them. But do not try to change them; you will not be able to reason with them. . . .

#2: “I don’t want a girl because the world is harder for girls.”. . .  Continue Reading »

57 Comments »

March 28th 2012
More on “the bloody, rich mulch of life:” Part II of my interview with The Republic of Nature author Mark Fiege

Posted under American history & book reviews & Gender & Intersectionality & the body & women's history

Today’s post is the second of a two-part interview with Mark Fiege (pronounced FEE-gee, rhymes with BeeGee), who has just published The Republic of Nature:  An Environmental History of the United States (Seattle:  University of Washington Press, 2012).  Mark is a colleague of mine at Baa Ram U., and his book delivers what its sweeping subtitle suggests–a striking reinterpretation of American history as environmental history, with chapters that span the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries.  Part I of our conversation is here, if you missed it.

As I explained yesterday, The Republic of Nature is not a textbook, but rather an attempt to interpret key episodes or turning points in American history as environmental history, reconsidering them from the different angles employed by environmental historians and their extra-disciplinary colleagues.  Its nine chapters explore New England witchcraft, the Declaration of Independence, “King Cotton,” Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address, the Transcontinental Railroad, the atomic bomb, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Oil Shock of the 1970s.  (Click here to learn more about the book at its own website.)

Mark saddled up and rode out East yesterday for the start of his national book tour–see here if he’s coming to a middle-western or eastern town near you this spring.  His book will be the subject of a special session next month at the annual meeting of the Organization for American Historians in Milwaukee on Friday, April 20 at 1:30 p.m.  Be there, and you just might get an opportunity to meet Mark and his fellow panelists, Linda Gordon, Mary Beth Norton, Eric Foner, and William Cronon.  Yes, that’s where Mark’s career is heading, friends–we’ll be lucky to keep him down on the high plains desert from now on.

In today’s conversation, we talk about how Mark defines environmental history and we even talk about some women’s history and history of sexuality and the connections between our fields:

Historiann:  I love the point that “nature” and “the natural” are inherently ideological constructs—just as are classic concepts for organizing American history like “liberty,” “republicanism,” and “democracy.”  Yet historians of the past several generations have been much more interested in organizing their lectures and books on the sweep of U.S. history around those  contested political terms because of their flexibility.  Americans as different as Jefferson, DuBois, Alice Paul, and Antonin Scalia, for example, have had very different interpretations of these big ideas.  Your book shows how nature can be an organizing principle of American history, too.

I want to press you further on your definition of environmental history.  Since you are advancing an expansive view of what constitutes environmental history, where I wonder do you draw the line between environmental history and everything else?  Is there any subject or methodology you would categorically exclude, or is your habit of mind now inclined to look for an environmental hsitory angle in everything?

Mark Fiege:  A recent book that I deeply admire and that speaks to all of these issues in particular ways is Susan Klepp’s Revolutionary Conceptions, some of the insights of which I incorporated into The Republic of Nature. As an environmental historian, I like the book because Klepp takes seriously the relationships among biological processes, culture, and power in explaining the causes and consequences of the decline in fertility during the American Revolution. Her claim that “procreation is power” is marvelous and expresses precisely what environmental historians are trying to do, which is to explain that complex, interacting combination of human and non-human material factors that drive history. Continue Reading »

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March 27th 2012
“Race and nature are at the heart of the story:” Part I of my interview with The Republic of Nature author Mark Fiege

Posted under American history & book reviews & class & Intersectionality & race & the body

Today’s post is the first of a two-part interview with Mark Fiege (pronounced FEE-gee, rhymes with BeeGee), who has just published The Republic of Nature:  An Environmental History of the United States (Seattle:  University of Washington Press, 2012).  Mark is a colleague of mine at Baa Ram U., and his book delivers what its sweeping subtitle suggests–a striking reinterpretation of American history as environmental history, with chapters that span the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. 

Because we have had conversations on this blog about many of the issues Mark addresses in his book, I believe that many of you will want to learn more about The Republic of Nature.  Those of you who are training graduate students in history and who are looking for ways to bring environmental history into your survey and upper-division lectures and readings will find this book indispensible.  American historians will learn something new, and non-U.S. historians will behold a model for using environmental history in telling a national story.  Furthermore, all readers who enjoys brisk prose and surprising insights into stories you thought you already knew will be rewarded with discoveries on nearly every page. 

The Republic of Nature is not a textbook, but rather an attempt to interpret key episodes or turning points in American history as environmental history, reconsidering them from the different angles employed by environmental historians and their extra-disciplinary colleagues.  Its nine chapters explore New England witchcraft, the Declaration of Independence, “King Cotton,” Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address, the Transcontinental Railroad, the atomic bomb, Brown v. Board of Education, and the energy crisis of the 1970s.  (Click here to learn more about the book at its own website.)

In today’s conversation, we talk about nature, race, and their central roles in American history:

Historiann:  Abraham Lincoln and race are emotionally and actually at the center of your book:  Lincoln’s profile at Mt. Rushmore greets us on the dust jacket of your book.  Your introduction opens with a fascinating meditation on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Chapters 3 through 5 focus respectively on slavery and cotton production, the mythic and actual biographies of Abraham Lincoln, and the Battle and Address of Gettysburg.  And finally, your interest in race and the color line in American history are evident again in your choice to focus on Brown v. Board of Education in chapter 8.  What is it about Abraham Lincoln and America’s record on race that attracted your interest as an environmental historian?  I can’t help but perceive a rebuke to environmental historians who perhaps have not attended to this aspect of the American historical landscape–or is that an unwarranted assumption?

Mark Fiege:  Researching and writing this book has convinced me that race and the black freedom struggle are central to American history, perhaps even its defining elements. But I’m an environmental historian, and another part of me recognizes that all social struggles unfold in the material medium generally known as nature. So I felt that I had to explain how race and nature are at the heart of the story.

While working on the book, I came across “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the national anthem composed in 1900 by James Weldon Johnson and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson. I had never heard it performed, so the ethnomusicologist Deborah Wong gave me a version of it on a CD. It is profoundly moving, as great as any of the other national anthems. In it, people wander across an awesome providential landscape until they come to a place where they can live in God’s sheltering grace. It presents a kind of alternative Manifest Destiny that is about redemption, not conquest. It captures perfectly the sense that the struggle is centered in a landscape and involves a people’s special relationship to nature. 

So I think my focus on race is less a rebuke to anyone than an embrace of what I take to be the truth of the matter–that this is what American history, at its core, is really about.        Continue Reading »

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January 19th 2012
Teaching the history of sexuality: more men but less rape, please?

Posted under American history & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & race & students & the body & unhappy endings & women's history

Yesterday, I read the comments on the teaching evaluation forms my students filled out last semester for the pilot course in the History of Sexuality in America class I co-taught with a colleague.  (We covered just about 1492-2011.)  The comments were overwhelmingly positive with only a few outliers.  Even people who liked the course complained that there was too much reading, but I and my co-instructor always get that on our teaching evaluations.  (Here’s an easy solution:  read through the syllabus on the first day of class, and drop the class if you don’t want to read all that!  It’s win-win for everyone that way.)

We had one suggestion–and only one–from a student who suggested that next time we might consider offering the course with one man and one woman professor, instead of two women.  Right–because our male colleagues are just lining up to teach this course, and it will be soothing and more objective if a male professor is in the room.  Continue Reading »

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January 9th 2012
The limited (and queer?) vision of American historical reenacting

Posted under American history & Gender & GLBTQ & Intersectionality & race

Fort Number Four, Charlestown, NH

Nick Kowalczk offers us a detailed look at historical re-enacting in “Embedded with the Reenactors,”  in which he ponders the fascination that some Americans have with reliving the bloody, imperialistic wars of the past.  I thought this article was noteworthy too because 1) they’re not Civil War reenactors, they’re  reenactors of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), and 2) the Seven Years’ War guys (and yes, they’re mostly middle-aged guys, according to Kowalczk’s reporting and my own observations of all kinds of reenactors over the years) have been enjoying their 250th anniversary moment in the spotlight for the past few years. 

I found Kowalczk’s article fascinating, although it’s written in a more “new journalism” style that includes him as both participant and observer, and I kept wishing he would go deeper into some of the questions he raises about reenactors based on his participation in a battle of the Siege of Fort Niagara:

It’s not every 4th of July you get to be around nearly 3,000 people inhabiting an amalgam of time, and especially in a place as lovely as Fort Niagara State Park. The water in Lake Ontario actually was blue. And the fortification, now known as Old Fort Niagara, has been well-preserved even though it was built by the French in 1726 and took a 19-day pummeling in July 1759, when a few thousand British and Indians out-maneuvered 600 Frenchman sitting pretty in a big castle protected by cannons and stone walls.

But being on the battlefield exactly 250 years later, I couldn’t help but imagine the 348 people who died and the many others who were injured or suffered. When they trembled for their lives could they ever have imagined that a bloodless, G-rated recreation of their deaths eventually would become someone’s hobby?   Continue Reading »

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October 11th 2011
20th anniversary of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Clarence Thomas SCOTUS nomination

Posted under American history & bad language & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & the body & unhappy endings & wankers & women's history

Nina Totenberg, who broke the story of Anita Hill’s allegations about Thomas, has an interesting retrospective of the Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings.  I was just starting my second year in graduate school in 1991.  Sexual trauma was big in the news of 1991:  that summer had already featured the ugly smearing of a high-profile rape victim in the trial (and acquittal) of William Kennedy Smith.  The Thomas hearings had us all riveted–on the one hand, it was remarkable to see a young, black woman’s testimony about sexual harassment entered into the public record.  On the other, the all-too-predictable reactions of the U.S. Senators who treated Anita Hill with such smarmy condescention or prurient personal attacks (Snarlin’ Arlen Specter and Orrin Hatch in particular) were almost too much to bear. 

Senator Ted Kennedy was of course notably silent through these hearings, because he had been a witness called at his nephew’s rape trial the previous summer. (That’s what Snarlin’ Arlen meant to imply when he said towards the end of the clip above, “Mr. Chairman I object to that. I object to that vociferously. . . If Senator Kennedy has anything to say, let him participate in this hearing.”)

Anita Hill looks so young and without defenses or allies in these old clips. She was unimaginably brave to endure this in public. Deborah Gray White suggests the powerful historical currents that Hill swam against 20 years ago in Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2008):
Continue Reading »

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September 27th 2011
Harris-Perry to Joan Walsh: we are so not friends!

Posted under American history & Gender & Intersectionality & jobs & race & women's history

Via RealClearPolitics, Melissa Harris-Perry has responded to Joan Walsh’s response (“Are white liberals abandoning the president?”) to her “Black President, Double Standard:  Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama,” which we discussed here last weekend.  (H/t to thefrogprincess, who originally alerted me to the Joan Walsh response in the comments on that post.) 

Harris-Perry makes some really good points about the ways in which black scholars and pundits are challenged about their ideas when they dare to talk about racism.  In “The Epistemology of Race Talk,” she notes that (white) interlocutors meet conversations about racism with charges to “Prove it! . . .The implication is if one cannot produce irrefutable evidence of clear, blatant and intentional bias, then racism must be banned as a possibility,” and questions about her authority and expertise (“Who made you an expert? . . . It is as though my very identity as an African-American woman makes me unqualified to speak on issues of race and gender; as though I could only be arguing out of personal interest or opinion rather than from decades of research, publication and university teaching.”)  I’m very sympathetic to both of these issues, as they’re textbook ways to derail a blog conversation, as many of you probably already know!

But, I feel like Harris-Perry was unfair to Joan Walsh when in the same response she accused Walsh of using the “I have black friends” claim. Continue Reading »

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