Following on William A. Williams’ Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959), a book that sought to understand how the project of democracy could be simultaneously well intentioned and destructive, a few scholars of the United States – Slotkin among them -- proposed that the history of violence was central to the formation of an “American” identity. Critical to this was a re-examination of the intellectual relationship between American democracy and the frontier, articulated originally by Frederick Jackson Turner (1893). Slotkin, for example, argued over the course of three volumes that it was not the frontier itself, but rather the naturalization of violence particular to the “frontier” -- on the Great Plains, in southeast Asia, or wherever Euro-Americans encountered racial “others” -- that shaped and re-shaped American culture and politics. His most recent book, The Lost Battalion: the Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality (2005) explores another, paradoxical, feature of this history of national violence: the exclusion of African Americans from democratic rights in 1919, despite black soldiers’ hopes that participation in World War I might result in full citizenship.
In the spirit of what I have cited above, I would like to take special note of four books I have read recently. Each pursues important questions about the history of violence, war and nationalism that are useful to us as historians and as critical thinkers about the contemporary United States.
The first volume I would recommend is Ned Blackhawk’s Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006). Blackhawk is part of a generation of Native scholars who are making radical interventions in American history. Violence Over the Land demonstrates the consequences of European imperial ambitions for Native North Americans from the sixteenth century onward. But it is the Indian empires of the Great Basin, primarily the Ute, Paiute and Shoshone nations, their strategies, economies and political cultures, which are central to this history of American borderlands. It is also significant to note that Blackhawk, following Richard White’s influential The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires and Republics In the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (1991), challenges the idea of an American “frontier” that moved in a linear way. Rather, Indians negotiated their survival on multiple, overlapping frontiers. Simultaneously, intermingled Americans, English, French and Spanish colonists and entrepreneurs created the political, economic and environmental conditions for the success of a United States imperial project in the Far West well before it was fully launched in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The second book on my list is a cultural and political history of death that has already received well-deserved attention, Drew Faust’s, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.) Faust asks a critical question that could usefully be asked about other wars and different forms of social violence: what is the impact of unimaginable death on a society? And how do people assimilate, and learn to cope with, a way of dying that is new to them? Of course, this is a particularly relevant question for the Civil War because, as Faust points out, neither the United States nor the Confederacy had any reason to imagine in 1861 that death might occur on such a scale. Furthermore, the idea that family members might die anonymously far away from the comfort loved ones normally provided, that soldiers might be dismembered and/or buried in haste, was unimaginable to antebellum bourgeois Americans who idealized a “good death.” Asking us to think about the everyday consequences of war to those who bear the brunt of it seems particularly relevant at a moment in time when the United States military works assiduously to keep the dead and wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan uncountable and hidden from view.
My third pick is historical fiction: Pat Barker’s Life Class (New York: Doubleday, 2008). Barker is a British novelist who won the Booker prize for The Ghost Road (1995), the third volume of her trilogy about World War I. This book views the Great War through the eyes of a group of friends whose studies at the Slade are interrupted in 1914. Similarly to Faust, the grisly descriptions of soldiers’ wounds point to the horrifying details of battlefield violence that individualize death through detail: for example, the slight – but consequential -- fact that on the Western Front men died of injuries that might have healed, had dirt teeming with untreatable microbes not been blown into the wounds. One cannot help but think of the contemporary phenomenon of suicide bombers, or IED’s exploded next to groups of soldiers and civilians, during which microscopic bits of human flesh penetrate and infect the skins of those who survive the attack. But the intellectual questions the book asks also should compel historians: does war awaken sensibilities that give art depth and meaning it might not otherwise have? Under what conditions does an aesthetic approach to war trivialize its violence? And under what conditions might any of us – as one female artist in the novel does – decide not to “see” the violence of war at all, and choose to focus on art instead?
My final pick is Cathy Wilkerson’s Flying Close to the Sun: My Life and Times as a Weatherman (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007), and I make this recommendation as someone who thinks virtually all memoirs from the radical anti-war movement are oddly annoying historical documents. Bill Ayer’s book, Fugitive Days, which had the bad luck to publish on September 11, 2001, romanticizes the violence and overestimates the political impact of Weatherman; Jane Alpert’s Growing Up Underground (1981) is simultaneously apologetic and too quick to pin responsibility on her co-conspirators. Furthermore, no former activist can write honestly about what happened, since there are people who might still be harmed by what is revealed. But what I love about the Wilkerson book is that it asks the question: how did someone who cared so deeply about peace and justice come to embrace violence as a political necessity? Wilkerson embeds the answer in autobiography, in an excellent social history of the New Left, and in reflections on the life-long burdens she has had to come to terms with for having chosen violence over peaceful opposition to a deeply immoral war.
(Crossposted at Tenured Radical)
Ouch. “Semiotics of the Kitchen” (1975), one of five short performance pieces produced and filmed by Lynda Begler, shows how ordinary kitchen implements express a woman’s rage, or what Betty Friedan famously called “the problem that has no name.” But Friedan – and other feminist writers – are considerably better known than the many female visual artists who worked for women’s liberation from 1965 on. If you are interested in an understudied, and dramatic, cultural history of second wave feminism, run – do not walk – to see “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” an exhibit at P.S. 1 in Long Island City, New York.
Curated by Connie Butler, WACK! represents 120 artists, collectives and collaborations in an international mixed media display that stretches from the mid-1960’s into the 1980’s, with the bulk of the exhibits concentrated in the years that defined movement feminism, 1966 through 1975. Collectively, and emphasizing images of domestic objects that defined bourgeois women’s existence during the late Cold War, the exhibit centers a series of critical questions that were central to feminist consciousness raising as it distinguished itself from other New Left movements. How does women’s oppression become visible in normal and everyday settings? Under what conditions does domestic patriarchy intersect with other oppressions, such as racism and American imperialism? What do women look like – and how would we know, when images generated by consumer culture construct “womanhood” as an artifact of cosmetic and commercial perfection?
Reading the exhibit as a historian of political feminism, and not as a historian of art, I was nevertheless struck at how difficult it was for these women to be perceived as artists at all when the gritty masculinity of the Cedar Tavern crowd in downtown New York dominated the gallery scene in these years. Entering the exhibit on the first floor, I was immediately drawn to Mary Beth Edelson’s “Some Living Women Artists” (1972), a photo collage in which a spoof of the Last Supper (Georgia O’Keefe’s head placed on Jesus’ body, surrounded on either side by twelve “apostles” that include Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois and Yoko Ono), is framed by miniature photographs of sixty, less well known, women artists. Further into the exhibit, Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic’s silent film “Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful” (1973) displays the dilemma of recognition for women artists, as Abramovic slashes at her thick, dark hair with a comb and brush for fourteen and a half minutes. Sometimes scraping her face and yanking at herself viciously in this “beautifying” effort, she obsessively mouths the title of the piece.
Even those with casual knowledge of the early years of women’s liberation will recognize one of its central themes, the critique of a consumer culture that urged women to perform a feminine role scripted by others. This later acquired a name, both among radical feminists and gay liberationists: “looksism,” something that women’s liberationists freed themselves from by throwing away girdles, bras, curling irons, make-up and shaving devices. Ann Newmarch’s photographic collage “Look Rich” (1975) centers a magazine clipping from a women’s magazine that urges women to “look rich” while on vacation, and to purchase expensive luggage, so that they can attract potential marriage partners. In block letters, the artist comments: “We must risk unlearning all those things that have kept us alive so long.” In “Beauty Knows No Pain” (1972), Martha Rosler cuts strategic holes in print advertisements for foundation garments and lingerie, inserting pictures of breasts and other body parts, so that the models blatantly display what these feminine garments are intended to both conceal and “sell” to men. Predictably, several exhibits – Ann Mendieta’s photographic series “Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints, 1972)” and Alice Neel’s oil on canvas portrait “Margaret Evans, 1978” – address this theme by showing women’ naked bodies in their most unflattering light, the first distorted by the pressure of glass against skin and hair, and the second distorted naturally by the final stages of pregnancy.
In another register, Betye Saar’s “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima” (1972), one of the few pieces by a black artist in the collection, shows a raised plastic cartoon “Mammy” doll, positioned in front of a background made from multiple pictures of a more comely, domesticated “Jemima” cut from the pancake box. A broom in her right hand, “Jemima” carries a rifle in her left: under one armpit is a pistol, and inset into her capacious skirt is a portrait of yet a third “Jemima,” holding a particularly anxious-looking white baby. Rising up in front of the whole collage is a brown fist, raised in a black power salute.
Although the exhibit offers much to think about, a great deal of it can be best appreciated as a commentary on a time when, as Ruth Rosen has put it, “The world turned upside down.” One series, however, bridged past and present for me by its insistence that prosperity at “home” is inevitably linked to a violent foreign policy: Rosler’s series of collages (1967-72) that contrast everyday household scenes with a parallel world of U.S. imperialism in Viet Nam. In “Red Stripe Kitchen,” two GI’s are rummaging through a suburban American kitchen, one peering around a doorjamb, perhaps looking for insurgents; the other is thoughtfully removing a rocket from a kitchen cupboard, as if it were a favorite chafing dish. In another brightly-colored collage, an American woman in a seductive pose is reflected in a bedroom mirror, but out the window and on television we can see artillery firing in black and white. In a third, a napalmed Vietnamese woman cradles her baby in her arms as she runs through a bright, sunny living room carpeted in white shag. Yet another features a photograph of a brick suburban ranch house; on the curb, a private soldier pauses in between firefights for a cigarette break.
The exhibit, in its insistence that viewers question the “normal” – or the connections between what we consider normal and the violence to self and other that the normal conceals, reinforced the intellectual links in my mind between second wave feminist theory and queer theory. But the exhibit also does the important work of linking feminism to a variety of New Left movements, and demonstrates visually how much intellectual exchange there was between feminism and other political impulses, even as feminist activists began to narrow their focus to violence against women by the mid-1970’s. As the 1969 proposal Mierle Laderman Okeles performance piece “Washing/Tracks/Maintenance” (1973), in which she described how she would live and clean publicly every day in a gallery, asked: “after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage Monday morning?”
Since the revolution didn’t come, we never got to find out – although we could probably guess, which was Okeles’ point. But for historians who are interested in what a lesser-known feature of the women’s movement looked like, this exhibit is a gem: don’t miss it.
“WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution” is at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, 22-25 Jackson Ave. at 46th Ave., Long Island City, New York, 11101, through May 12. Open 12-6, Thursday – Monday. Admission is $5.00.
Crossposted at Tenured Radical
Chuck was one of the great intellects of our time: as importantly, he was endlessly excited about ideas, a scholar who was an indefatigable teacher, a man who not only taught you how to do history, but encouraged you to find your own new ways to do it. While I wouldn't call him a radical (because it is too reductive -- he was so much more than that), he was the exact opposite of a conservative, an interdisciplinary thinker who believed that knowledge production could evolve as fast as the human mind could accomodate new paradigms and new ideas. He encouraged his students to find new things to think about, but more importantly, to find new ways to think. As a teacher he was generous to a fault, and he had a quiet but firm disdain for academic pettiness and cruelty, that rarely manifested itself in open conflict with a scholar behaving badly, but rather in redressing the wrong done by showering kindness, and whatever resources he had available, on those who had been subjected to the most common forms of departmental and institutional abuse.
I first heard of Chuck when I was a Yale undergraduate, and an English major who took history courses for fun. Taking history classes was simultaneously a great leisure activity and an intellectual activity, since at that moment Yale probably had a fistful of some of the best lecturers ever gathered in one place at the same time. One of the hippest of them was John Merriman, whose class on the French revolution people used to revisit year after year just to hear the lecture on Robespierre. John was also famous for throwing keg parties for his students at the end of the semester, and at one of them we had a long talk about his great teacher at Michigan, Charles Tilly. John said if I ever had the chance, I should study with him.
Some years later I was in graduate school at NYU and one of those things happened that can more or less derail your Ph.D.: my advisor and mentor, Albert U. Romasco, died suddenly, about a week before my general exams actually, and there was no one who was either intellectually appropriate or interested enough in me to take over my dissertation. They had to hire someone else, and it was going to take time. But then -- as if there really is some pattern to life if you can only discern it -- Chuck and Louise Tilly came to the New School, right up the street, and one of their former colleagues from Michigan who was on my committee suggested I go up and talk to Chuck about my research because we had some interests in common.
So I did. And the only thing that was misleading about that advice, in retrospect, was that since Chuck was interested in everything, with whom would he not have interests in common? Furthermore, I didn't know that at that moment in time you got Chuck and Louise as a package, and that once you fell into their orbit you never really left. You became part of this network of astonishing people with capacious intellects who came in and out of town, moving through offices that were a hive of activity, research and ideas. Looking at something I had written one day, Chuck said,"Theda Skocpol is coming through next week -- let's have her take a look at it and pick her brain." Chuck ran a proseminar on the state which was my principle intellectual context during my final years in graduate school: one fall, in the first meeting, I walked in and sitting around the table were E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, Bridget Hill, and Eric Hobsbawm. The Hills and Thompson remained for a month; Hobsbawm, who was particularly helpful in talking to me about my research on social bandits in the Great Depression, stayed for the semester, and then came and went for the next several years.
I mean really -- imagine being a graduate student writing about social bandits in the twentieth century United States, and someone drops Eric Hobswbawm in your lap. It's like Christmas for historians.
I intend this as a snapshot of what Chuck did with his life: there is a universe of scholars out there who would tell you similar and different stories. If I could characterize his pedagogy, I would say that he believed in bringing smart people together and creating an atmosphere where ideas could flourish. He taught me to think big, and he taught me to take risks. He taught me the difference between scholars who were capable of rigorous, useful criticism and people who criticized others just to make themselves look smarter or more important. And he taught me to believe in my own intellect, that ideas that didn't make sense to others would, in time, when the ideas had developed sufficiently that my readers could finally grasp them. Once we were sorting out a problem in a dissertation chapter, and he persuaded me that something I wanted to write about was just a diversion from the argument the chapter needed to make. Reluctantly, I agreed: I pulled those pages out, crumpled them up and flipped them into the trash can. Chuck got up and walked across the room, pulled them out of the trash and handed them back to me."Never throw an idea away," he said"Whatever took you there once, will take you there again." And he was right, of course: the pages I had discarded became an article on the labor gun molls performed in criminal gangs in the 1930's.
So I now tell my students the same thing.
When you ask Chuck's students -- and there are so many of us -- you will hear stories about teaching, about research (he once dumped a bunch of documents on my desk and said,"Would you take a look at this? I can't figure out what to do with them, but I think you can"), about teaching people to have faith in their own instincts, about generosity. You will hear stories about his capacity to listen, and about his boundless respect for others. Most of all he encouraged his students to think big: to make comparisons, to examine patterns that extend over centuries, to imagine grand theories and write about them, to challenge orthodoxies, and to make history matter. He brought people together, was generous with his friendship, his time and his ideas. And I have a strong feeling that, were he peering over my shoulder now, he would say,"Alright, that's enough about me. It's your work that is important today. Isn't there a drawerful of research you need to get to now? So wind up this blog post and get back to your book."
Crossposted at Tenured Radical.
But where are the historians at SSRN?
Although one might legitimately dispute whether history is a social science (I prefer to think of it as an interdisciplinary field rather than a discipline myself), history is not represented on the site's index as a searchable network, although historians may be hiding in some of the other categories. English and American literature, Classics and Philosophy are represented, however, and they are not social sciences at all.
So what's the deal history colleagues? It's rare that we find ourselves to be outpaced by Philosophy and Classics in the creation of audiences -- and by our friends in English Departments too! Despite the claims of conservative pundits that literary scholars are rotting the academy from inside out while the rest of us stand helplessly by and watch, they have a harder time getting published, finding full-time employment, and being taken as seriously as they should be as public intellectuals than virtually any other category of scholar (except perhaps philosophers and classicists -- new translation of the Iliad, anyone?)
Other than the fact that these three fields are under siege and have nothing to lose (as well as everything to gain) by trying to reach a mass audience, my favorite theory as to why we historians have fallen behind in seeking out a broader readership is that historians have a particularly vexed relationship to the popular. On the one hand, the masses as well as the classes often pursue history as a leisure activity and a hobby, which makes it possible for a few historians to distribute their work far more broadly than other scholars can. David McCullough, Jill Lepore, and Jonathan Spence, for example, reach a national market with their scholarship, in part because educated readers love history and in part because they are great writers with an eye for a story that needs to be told. On the other hand, how many times, dear history colleagues, have you seen a group of otherwise sensible people turn up their noses at the information that a forthcoming scholarly work will appear under the imprint of a quality commercial publisher that most authors -- nay, those with the upturned noses -- would kill to have a contract, much less a check and marketing plan, from? Vile commerce is perceived by us as inherently suspect, and we ensure scholarly virtue through a refereeing process that controls distribution of work, delays projects for years and ensures that the manuscript will only speak to a narrow audience. An insistence that the only good work has been heavily vetted through our current refereeing practices may be a mistake, much as soliciting the criticisms of others does contribute to producing good work (although it doesn't always, I'm afraid, as cases where flawed research has slipped through to publication or a prize demonstrates.) In its current form, it may be a fetish that is doing us more harm than good, and may be something that our professional associations need to review to take advantage of an atmosphere of intellectual vigor offered by electronic and other forms of mass publication.
Crossposted at Tenured Radical
Claire was still up on the table when I left. I was more than anxious as to how she would get down, because I know I wouldn't be able to get down from a high table with my knees in the shape they are, so I beetled off to the Town Hall Beer garden with my entourage instead and left the worrying to others.
After dinner, there was a plenary on"The Changing (?) Status of Women in the Historical Profession." Can we say"glass ceiling?" I won't recount the details, but suffice to say that the Radical ran into the author of the AHA's Lunbeck report at registration earlier in the day, and she didn't plan to report good developments in the three years since her findings were published. And I am not so sure that the issue is entirely a question of women being hired, but rather what the conditions of labor are after you are hired. Practically every woman I talked to over the age of 45 -- including the author of the Lunbeck Report -- was either serving as a department chair, or getting ready to serve as a chair, or doing some other administrative job.
But there is some good news, news that I have known about for a while. A group of scholars associated with the Berkshire Conference have organized in the past several months to collect a rather large sum of money to endow an article prize named for Mary Maples Dunn, godmother to the Radical (true), colonial historian and authority on William Penn, former professor of History at Bryn Mawr College, former President of Smith, former Director of the Schlesinger Library, former acting Dean of the Radcliffe Institute, and -- with her husband Richard Dunn -- former co-executive officer of the American Philosophical Society. The endowment was announced at the end of the panel and -- astonishingly, since it was all over the internet and many people had given money, including my mother, who was Mary's grad school roommate at Bryn Mawr, hence the godmother thing) -- the secret had been successfully kept from Mary! This is because, as she explained to me, she does not spend her time reading everything available on her computer screen as I do. The fundraisers were all over the various early American listserves and networks so the jig would have been up if Mary were a blogger. At the dessert reception afterwards (co-sponsored by the Berks, the Coordinating Council of Women Historians, the National Collaborative for Women's History Sites, and the Western Association of Women's Historians) she was still a little bowled over, and very happy.
Finally -- before bed -- because an old graduate school buddy is running that committee, I also know who won the Berks annual article prize. But that would be telling, wouldn't it? Come to the opening ceremony and keynote tomorrow at Ted Mann Concert Hall to find out.
Crossposted at Tenured Radical.
Here at Cliopatria, Ralph Luker has chided said blogger for ducking in and out of a fight he started. Speaking from experience, I would say that new bloggers do make mistakes, although I'm not sure that Rusticus would agree he made one. He may be uncertain, though. The posts and the blog itself go down periodically, only to reappear with the same ideas, sometimes framed differently, but sometimes not. For a brief period Mercurius Rusticus was up but closed to all but invited guests, perhaps because a group of female Picts waving scythes and staves (and I might add, only recently have Picts, male or female, been welcome in the profession at all because they are prone to such behavior) had gathered outside his office. With this I sympathize: I had a Pict problem myself a while back, and it took months to untangle.
Luker, my colleague and fellow Cliopatrician, notes that this discussion is:
a missed opportunity, because underlying MR's bitterness and snark were some issues that ought be discussed: 1) in what ways, if any, has the growth of women's history broadened and deepened our understanding of history? 2) has its growth drained resources from other fields of historical inquiry and negatively affected the careers of male historians? and 3) person for person, have female historians been as productive as their male counterparts? (I have heard the late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese make the argument that they have not.)
I might add to Ralph's observation that Betsy, as her intimates called this intelligent, accomplished and hard-edged scholar, also lost a lot of friends (men and women) not because she became a neocon in her final years (which she did) but because such opinions had little basis in fact and seemed only designed for self-promotion. But Ralph's point about a missed opportunity echoes a question, asked by a certain Mouse:"would you consider doing a post on some of what you consider to be the highlights of achievements by women historians, and/or in gender history, in the past few years? Why does the Berkshire conference matter?"
Well, it would take too long to really do it right, but let me give it a shot.
Let me begin by turning to Davis, who answered questions about her own innovations in the field in a 1988 AHR Forum. It is one of the most lucid essays I have ever read, and responds to Robert Finlay's counter-reading of Davis's path-breaking interpretations of well-known evidence in The Return of Martin Guerre, a foundational work in the fields of early modern history and women's history. I -- and others in my department, male and female - teach Martin Guerre and the subsequent debate for two reasons. One is because Davis is able to demonstrate, by telling a story, a methodological approach to recovering history that then illuminates so many other aspects of the world in which it is situated. This is something that historians of earlier periods do so well, and since most of our students go on to do modern, or even recent, history as majors, it is a good opportunity to make them aware of some basic rules, and debates, over the nature of evidence. But in doing so, Davis also uncovers a story about how women who lived in a world governed by fathers, brothers and husbands made choices that allowed them to survive and prosper. And she points to the importance of understanding communities as places where various hierarchicies of power, whether gender, age, or status, were not fixed but negotiated through the actions and choices of individuals. In other words, not only does Davis"recover" the story of a woman, one principle task of women's history, she uses that as a path to recover a better history of men, and to illuminate what it meant to be human in a particular world.
My point is that illuminating what it means to be human is what women's history does, but as it happens, humans come in different bodies that engage universalisms (for example, what it means to be"human") differently. By including the"other humans" -- whether those other humans are women, slaves, workers, colonized subjects, children, the common soldier, or what have you -- historians working on the so-called margins illuminate the world of the humans who have traditionally been at the center of historical research. Women's history is part of that task. And women are more likely to do it than men at present, although that is less and less true.
But the other thing that the Davis-Finlay exchange demonstrates is how to argue in a civilized way. Of course, they had editors, and bloggers don't. But Finlay avoids an error that some historians, young and old, would do well to contemplate: do not use a machine gun when a .22, carefully aimed, will do; and be respectful of other people's achievements even when you question their findings. Similarly, Davis avoids an error by not over-arguing or becoming defensive; and by illuminating a point of genuine disagreement about scholarly method while elaborating on why she thinks she is right.
I'd like to come back to this question of history's focus on"being human" (although historians of the environment and other non-human fields might have something to say about this, since things have a history at the same time as that history can't be disentangled from the history of human thought about them.) But"being human" is not just a vacant (or as feminist scholar Ann Snitow would say,"unmarked") category that allows us to go on and assemble"the facts" in a neutral way. History has always been highly (perhaps too) attendant to and embedded in nationalism. And let's look at the role race has played in historical writing -- whether we are talking about the long historiography of Atlantic World slavery, colonialism and various forms of conquest; the Anglo-Saxonism and regionalism of early United States and English historians; or the efforts to locate the origins of modern nation-states in long, pre-modern pseudo-racial histories. And of course, we might also point to the long-standing ignorance by historians of politics that occurred outside the formal political sphere that has now fortunately been relieved.
So one might say that"women's history," and the history of gender that emerged from it, is no different from any of the projects that have sought to mark unmarked categories, except that it was brought into the university by women. And, more properly by feminists. As a field that, in its professionalized form was inherently attached to the bodies of women who struggled against prejudice,"women's history" challenged and changed history in three important ways: by fighting for the recognition of female practitioners as scholars and professionals; by allowing historians as a group to simply know more by extending professional archival practices to the history of women; and by changing what historians knew about major historical trasnformations such as industrialization, war, emancipation, and state formation. But women, disproportionate to their numbers and often working to support a great man (can we say"Michelet?") have dramatically influenced what counts as history, and that is part of what they celebrate and perpetuate when they gather. For a useful introduction to this, and to the ways that historians' wives were a hidden part of the publishing enterprise, see Bonnie Smith's long publishing record, and particularly The Gender of History: Men, Women, and Historical Practice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.)
Those not interested in the history of"women" might yet attend usefully to the fields that this history has created in its wake, principally studies of maleness and masculinity; and to fields previously unmarked by gender. War and international relations are two related fields that, in today's world, we might usefully revisit. Drew Faust's books on the Civil War (companion volumes really, if you read her work chronologically from beginning to end), skillfully deploy what Joan Scott famously called"gender as a category of analysis" to ask fresh questions about an historical event that is perhaps more thoroughly excavated than any other, certainly in American history. And scholars like Patricia Hill, Leila J. Rupp and other scholars influenced by the history of women and of feminist thought, male and female, have asked new questions about the history of foreign policy, still mostly male-dominated.
I could go on, but I won't: as I said, never over argue, and know that you are losing your audience in the blogosphere for every additional paragraph you write. But as to why the Berkshire Conference matters: well, that's a longer story, but I have some human responses to that. One is that, while male scholars have historically valorized independence and objectivity, it is simply the case that often through participation in professional organizations, men formed networks that excluded women for decades, and that those networks sustained their scholarship and marginalized the scholarship of women as not"good enough." For an example of this, which I will make a subject of another post, see Deborah Gray White's new collection, Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower, which details the struggle to establish the history of black women as a field, and the struggle of black women to establish themselves as inherently worthy of consideration as intellectuals by men (black and white) and often other women (white.) And as we all know, Deborah Gray White wrote the first book ever about African-American women in slavery, having been told repeatedly that there was no history to write. Sensibly, she wondered how that could be and the rest was -- well, history.
One of the themes that leaps out of the collection is how professional organizations put otherwise isolated black women in contact with each other, to exchange work, initiate collaborative research, and mentor each other. Professional organizations always matter and, as many of the methodological panels at the Berks underlined, they help us review the field, figure out where it is fraying at the edges, and guide us either backwards to scholarship we need to reconsider or forward to the next stage of our inquiry.
But I would close with two points: contemporary feminist organizations are not about the"exclusion of men," nor is women's and gender history surviving because its numerous critics have been mysteriously silenced. It has gained the purchase it has in the profession because it persuades and corrects. Indeed, in this way I am a great believer in the market. Scholars and educated readers buy, teach, and read the books that persuade them. When women pried their way into the academy (which often meant prying themselves out of full-time mother- and wifehood first), despite discrimination, they prospered. And they prospered principally because men -- who still overwhelmingly dominate the profession and at least in the United States get jobs out of proportion to the percentage of men who earn Ph.D.'s - were persuaded, and continue to be persuaded. They taught us, mentored us, voted for our tenure, put us on editorial boards, elected us president of national organizations and so on. Whatever struggles women still face, we are here to stay, and in all fields.
Cross posted at Tenured Radical
I thought of our conversation when I saw this story on the Associated Press wire, which describes an attack last night on city-owned vehicles in Orlando, Florida. Cars were sprayed with anti-Obama slogans such as"Obama smokes crack" and what the AP reporter described as"a racial epithet."
Funny the reporter did not consider"Obama smokes crack" to be a racial epithet.
At any rate, the other feature of this was that there were also anti-McCain slogans left by the vandals as well (on"business cards"); but cards were also left that indicated the damage had been done by disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters. And this all occurred hours after Clinton and Obama campaigned together for the first time.
Strange times we are living in, no? My first response was,"Don't forget that Florida is in the South," and by this I do not necessarily mean the racism alone. Clearly by including McCain in the attacks, the vandals intended, despite the use of racial epithets, to target Clinton (in the guise of"supporting" her) as both"racist" and"sexist." And we should not forget, as the reporters did in this story, that McCain was himself the target of racist leaflets in 2004, when activists either supported or inspired by the Bush reelection campaign there went after his adopted child as the"secret daughter" McCain had supposedly fathered with a black woman (what's wrong with a white man having a biracial daughter out of wedlock, you ask, and then taking her into his home? The short answer is that it's not the having, or the keeping of her, it's the telling of it that is a political and historical sin.)
The intent, as I understand it, is to foment explicitly racial and gendered antagonisms in the Democratic party, and to remind voters on the radical right that a vote against Obama is a vote for everything that white supremacy has and does stand for. I was thinking about the potential for this kind of attack while watching the Unity Event last night, since it is impossible for me to watch the news without going into historian mode. Clinton and Obama touched each other and embraced lightly now and then; they whispered intimately in each other's ears (which political candidates are inclined to do even, or especially, when of the same gender and/or race.) And this thing that was happening publicly between a black man and a white woman was like history hitting me smack in the face. That, my friends, is where Southern history still has us by the throat: that for some people, this image of a black man and a white woman together, whether in a political or an actual marriage, will be the image that has the power to mobilize irrational and dangerous rage. And it will be used.
So this is my response. I think we all have to commit to the principle that until racial violence masquerading as politics no longer happens in Florida, we are not free of it in the United States either. By this I wish to emphasize that those of us who live in places like, say New England, are quick to stigmatize places like Florida. But Connecticut had its Jim Crow too, and it still does: look at the difference between schools in New Haven and schools in Greenwich; the percentage of people who can and do vote in Bridgeport and those who can and do vote in Stamford, only a few miles down the road? I used to think about this during the Pennsylvania primary, when reporters talked about the vast"Alabama" between Pittsburgh and and Philadelphia: well, I don't know what Pennsylvania they were looking at, but when I was growing up in the Suburbs, for many black people, North and West Philadelphia were Birmingham. And just because they vote for Democrats in the wealthy suburbs now doesn't mean it isn't Alabama in some respects. Or Florida.
Perhaps it is because I am engrossed in Barbara Ransby's wonderful biography of Ella Baker, but I have to say, I do not think it is working for us not to talk publicly about race, particularly since when I am with groups of white people they are talking about it a lot, in both productive and scary ways. One white woman I have known for a while, a New Englander, repeated every single crazy lie all of us have heard about Obama ("How," I found myself stuttering in shock,"Can Obama be both a devoted parishioner of the Reverend Wright and a madrassah-educated Muslim simultaneously?") And why did she say these things to me, of all people? It was not until later that I recalled the context -- we were alone, two white women, in a private space where no one who was not"one of us" --as it were -- could overhear.
What we white people who have become, or have always been, Obama supporters must decide is: are we willing to break the racial contract of silence that has more or less held for years (witness our endless use of the euphemism the n-word as if somehow our white lips suddenly became unable to make those sounds after 1964)? And if so, how will we break the contract, without putting ourselves first, as we often have in other historical moments? Despite the fact that Obama would be wise to talk about race as little as possible, how do the rest of us, and particularly white women, pursue a specifically anti-racist agenda in this election season? And to what extent are we willing to take responsibility for the fact that if this is happening in Florida, it is being countenanced elsewhere?
Coda: click here for young white kids who are taking the name"Hussein" as an everyday act to eliminate the stigma right wing crazies have attached to it.
Cross posted at Tenured Radical
OK -- so I just finished reading Yours In Sisterhood. And you should read it too if you haven't, if only because you will teach second wave feminism better -- whether in a whole course or in a single lecture -- if you do. By focusing on Ms., Farrell is able to address the apparent"fragmentation" of feminism in the 1970's as an effect of its success; as well as an effect of the difficulty of creating a distinctively"feminist" media presence in a patriarchal commercial environment. Farrell helped me, in particular, figure out why it might be OK to jettison all the labels that describe different strands of the movement in the 1970's, and look instead at what people did on the ground, as opposed to what they claimed as their theory or ideology. As she shows, not only did multiple feminist constituencies discover"feminisms" that were useful to them, they were able to debate them with each other -- and with dominant voices in the movement, in the pages of Ms. As Farrell shows, the magazine became an arena for conflict, as well as for imaginative identification, among feminists -- and she does it without being too heavy-handed with her theoretical framework (this is a compliment that becomes significant later in the post.)
But why the Patty Smith headline? (Yeah Baby, just hit play while you read the rest of the post):
I would say that I am saddened to hear of the death of activist Del Martin, except that she was 87, had been ill for some time, and lived an extraordinary and accomplished life, so I find just thinking about her uplifting. Plaintiffs in the California marriage case, (Martin is on the left with life partner Phyllis Lyon, in the above photo taken in 1972), the couple was first in line to get married when that case was successfully concluded earlier this year. Like many queer people who add constantly to kin networks soldered together with love and political commitment, I don't think that Phyllis will be alone. Furthermore, I would say that since Del Martin is an excellent example of a woman who left no unfinished business, we might even want to pause for a celebration.
Now, just to be radically perverse, I will also maintain that there is always unfinished business in a life like Del Martin's. Phyllis and Del were organizers, and an organizer's work is never complete. Martin and Lyon were on the front lines of post-war anti-homophobic activism, an activism that laid the foundation for homosexuals to enter the social and political mainstream and also -- for those of us who don't care much for the mainstream -- to stand on the shoulders of that movement to craft a radical queer politics as well. They were co-founders of Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, a lesbian homophile organization that worked with religious and mental health profesisonals to battle legal, social and economic discrimination against lesbians, and in 1960, Del became one of the editors of The Ladder, a newsletter that connected usually closeted lesbians across the United States and internationally in a support and information network. In 1972, the energetic pair were among the founders of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club in San Francisco. The Toklas Club not only brought gays and lesbians into local politics, it created a model for formal political participation by gays and lesbians on the"interest group" model that dominated Democratic liberal politics at the time.
What people talk less about is Martin's significance as a feminist: in 1963, the couple joined the National Organization for Women, becoming the first lesbians to publicly identify with the organization. In 1981, Martin published a pathbreaking book, Battered Wives, that addressed questions of domestic violence that were beginning to provide a central focus for political feminism. Analyses by Martin and other feminists like Susan Brownmiller, Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon would provide a literature for cultural feminist activisms that would coalesce and become visible in the 1980's in anti-pornography, anti-rape and battered women's shelter movements.
Martin's life work is too extensive to review here. But you can read about in Marcia M. Gallo's excellent history of DOB, Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement. Martin saw GLBT rights as part of a larger human rights movement, something that is worth remembering as we move forward into what will almost assuredly be a new chapter in American political history. Crossposted atTenured Radical
I had many thoughts, but prominent among them was:"That I should live to see this day."
While some may not have felt Obama brought anything more specific to his acceptance speech than he has to any speech, I disagree. What use has it ever been to hear that a president will spend eight billion dollars on this problem, and three trillion on that? When has money been more critical to an historical outcome than a sense of mission? Obama committed to guaranteed health insurance; ending the war in Iraq; saving social security; quality public education; reforming the tax code to stop the flow of money to the wealthy. He committed to addressing the great national shame of foreclosure and poverty; to the future of military veterans who currently return from combat and are cut loose as quickly as possible to fend for themselves in confusion and pain.
I think the consequences of the war we never wanted will be particularly important for liberals to embrace in this election. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in economics to know that it is better for many wounded veterans' families if they die, rather than live: death at least brings several hundred thousand dollars in insurance and federal compensation payments. Life brings decades of medical bills that bankrupt the family. In fact, most people who have been plunged into poverty have done nothing to cause it. They have been robbed by deregulated markets, by refusal to enact national health care, by an illegal war and a prison system that has stolen our young and our money and poured it into contractors who line the pockets of politicians, by disastrous education policies that bleed money out of the public coffers to privatized schools and unfunded mandates that replace real learning with tests.
Can Obama turn things around, given the ruined state of our country? Is anything we do, as citizens of good will, going to be enough for him to succeed? I don't know. But let me remind you, dear reader, that when the United States began to commit to the fight against fascism in 1939, and then went to war two years later, this country was ruined in similar ways. But we did it anyway because we had ideas and the will to succeed.
Si, se puede.
You can argue with me on the fine points. You can remind me of the Democrats who have been collaborators in this disaster: the Clintons, for example, and everyone who voted for NAFTA, NCLB and the war. You can remind me of the Democratic policies that turned resentful (yes, resentful -- historians know he spoke the truth here) white voters enraged about desegregation and antipoverty programs over to the Republicans. But I still maintain this central truth: this disaster was planned and executed by a ruthless conservative establishment dedicated to the transfer of wealth from the many to the few - not just the Reagans, Bushes and Cheneys, but the William Kristols, the Pat Buchanans, the Milton Friedmans, the John Yoos, the Phyllis Schlafleys, the David Horowitzs, the Rupert Murdochs, the Rush Limbaughs, the Ann Coulters, the John Silbers. This is what they have done to us, and to our country: they stole our money, and spouting constitutional pieties all the way, they stole our constitution. Talking about freedom all the way, they stole our freedom and replaced it with fear, suspicion, intolerance and poverty.
And this is what made the most difference to me last night: Obama, and others, have finally said, straight out, what Congress and the press has been unwilling to say for years:"the Emperor has no clothes. None. The Emperor is stark, staring naked, and those of us who could afford to have turned away because the power of corruption in this country has been so awesome and overwhelming." But many people, for example every member of the military, their families, people wallowing in debt because financial fraud is now legal, and hundreds of thousands of people on the Gulf Coast still suffering from the impact of Hurricane Katrinathree years later to the day couldn't turn away. They have had no place to go. And as southerners wait for another hurricane to strike the Gulf Coast, wait to see if their hard earned property will still be there next week, the same mean, broken government is in charge. The Bush administration let them drown once, and they will do it again, because three years later that city is no safer, the levees no taller, the working people no more able to help themselves than they ever were.
There's the Republican party in a nutshell, friends. You live and die, succeed or fail, alone. Forget it that the rich, or even the modestly well off like your Radical here, are never alone. They have financial advisors, tax accountants, trust funds, 401k managers, secretaries, domestic servants, a whole army out there fighting to keep gasoline under $5.00 a gallon. They have inheritances, private schools, several (seven? eight?) homes. And even those who don't expect to be independently wealthy have parents who write a check every year for the maximum annual gift that can be passed on from an estate without taxation. And yet all we hear from the Republicans is that if every American doesn't go it alone, the Union will fall.
Well, they have lied. And they will go on lying. But -- regardless of the details (or lack thereof) Obama and the Democratic party are telling the truth this time. Things are bad in America, and it doesn't require a return to Great Society policies (which, I might remind you, were enacted during one of the most dishonest periods in American foreign policy ever, and did not end poverty either) for us to be Democrats again and admit that no one -- no one -- goes it alone. To say loudly and clearly that the federal government has a special obligation to citizens who are alone. That is part of what a commitment to human rights and to freedom, at home and abroad, means.
I want to close by citing the ideological architecture of modern American liberalism, as it was articulated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his state of the union address on January 6, 1941. This has come to be known as the"Four Freedoms" speech, in which FDR spoke of the responsibilities of government at a dark time when the United States had not recovered from the Depression, and was about to plunge into a terrible war. As he reached the conclusion of this speech, Roosevelt said:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world.
This wasn't very specific, was it? And yet a whole democratic world order, not to mention the ongoing achievement of civil rights for minorities, women, children, the poor and the queer in the United States, was built on it -- however imperfectly.
It's time. We need to act. And for those of you who are still ripped about Hillary Clinton not winning the nomination, ask yourself: what would Eleanor Roosevelt do? Then go do it.
Crossposted atTenured Radical