Tag Archives: Gender and History

Exploring race and racism, gender and misogyny: History 5410 Race and Gender in Modern America

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments is an exploratory, experimental history of the lives of young black women in northern cities in the early twentieth century. Its author, Saidiya Hartmann, had just won a MacArthur “genius” grant for her innovative scholarship when we sat down to discuss the book earlier this month. I think that it was at this moment that the seven students in History 5410 Race and Gender in Modern America really gelled. The day’s student seminar-leaders guided us through a provocative, wide-ranging discussion about how Hartmann’s method beautifully evoked the inner worlds of women largely invisible in the historical record where they mostly appear as statistics in sociologies of the ghetto, names on police blotters, or case files of detention centers. We considered what Hartmann taught us about these young women’s lives with her method that we might not have understood otherwise and discussed whether or not this was a method that graduate students in history might want to embrace.

Hartmann’s book is among a set of histories of race and gender in the U.S. since 1877 that the course includes. We have read about miscegenation, farmworkers and migrants, and women’s employment and “economic citizenship” and are moving on to civil rights, conservative politics of the family, and mass incarceration. Katie, a first-year doctoral student in the department, comments that “I have never explored race and gender exclusively in a course and the well-selected readings and discussions have forced me to re-evaluate my preconceived notions of both of these concepts. This class has challenged me to really understand how race and gender construct one another in today’s world.” Grace Campagna, a senior history major, echoes the point, observing that “The biggest takeaway from the class so far has been seeing the range of ways that those in power have used race and gender to construct and uphold social, political, and economic systems.”

The seminar is based in a student-centered pedagogy. Will Hogue, a second-year doctoral student, says that “Dr. Swinth’s commitment to experimenting with new and more democratic pedagogical methods has been very rewarding.” He adds, “The collaborative syllabus model gives the students not only the chance to tailor the course to their personal needs and goals, but also the chance to practice some lesson planning and course construction. In all, it has been helpful for our development both as scholars and teachers.” In fact, the class just completed a collaborative process to set the topics for the last four weeks of the seminar, all chosen by students to reflect their interests and to pursue questions that have arisen in the first part of the course.

At its most basic, this course investigates the ways that race and gender have shaped what it is like to live in the United States today. It draws upon the field of history and the skills, talents, and creativity of committed graduate students (and an accompanying professor) to explore the key categories and mechanisms that have made race and gender “tick” in American culture and society since Reconstruction. In many it is a traditional graduate readings seminar. Course readings analyze how these key, intersecting categories shaped American politics, economy, culture, state, and criminal justice system. But beyond that, the seminar’s deeper goal is to follow the class’s collective interests. What do class members, as individuals, and the class, as a group, want to understand better and more deeply about the history of race and gender in the U.S.? This course is as an opportunity to figure out why learning about this topic matters to comprehending U.S. history, why it matters to students (personally, professionally, as citizens/contributors), and why it matters to the larger world, future students, and other audiences we have yet to identify.

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Graduate Student Publications

Christine Kelly, a PhD candidate in History, recently published an article titled “Folk as the Sound of Self-Liberation: The Career and Performance Identity of Odetta,” based on her dissertation research. Christine shared with us the abstract for the article:

 

Odetta Felious Gordon Holmes – commonly known by her stage name, “Odetta” – played an instrumental role in the rise of American folk music as a mouthpiece for dissent during the social movements of the post-war era. She abandoned a life she planned in opera and oratorio for a career as an interpreter of African American slave songs and spirituals, material originally recorded by song collectors John and Alan Lomax in travels through the Mississippi Delta region. Odetta has claimed that while a life in oratorio would have enriched her vocally, its musical lineage had “nothing to do” with her experience. In contrast, a new repertoire of songs she gathered – songs derived from slave laborers, prison chain gangs, longshoremen, and church congregations – allowed her to shape her identity as a performing artist in crucial ways throughout her fifty year career. As a folk singer, Odetta co-constructed a cultural movement which drew inspiration from song writers of the past – composers of “freedom hymns” – to seek liberation in the present. For Odetta, such liberation was, at first, primarily for herself. As an African American woman who suffered the indignities of segregation, she felt she carried a “dragon” inside, one that hated herself and others. With a broad, black body of which she was ashamed, on stage Odetta tried to conceal and neutralize herself as a racial and gendered subject as she donned long, dark clothing, and threw herself fully into the material she performed. Through an act of self-abnegation, she performed the music, often of black men, who insisted on affirming their existence, the validity of their subjectivity, despite the oppressions that came with circumstances they faced involving humiliation and forced confinement. As an arbiter of the folk tradition, Odetta offered her body as bridge to connect a new generation of listeners with marginalized experiences of the past. As such, Odetta became a cultural broker of a folk tradition of dissent. She relied on a common method among performing artists – benefit concerts – to raise substantial funds for civil rights causes. Odetta’s life in music became a site of self-emancipation as she transformed from a suffering artist who often behaved subserviently to one who invented an identity which insisted on her own personal dignity. Furthermore, the exposure she gave her listeners to a nearly forgotten black cultural heritage enabled them to empathize with the experience of past singer-songwriters, seeing injustice in the present as more pressing than before. Odetta’s appeal to the idiom of folk and the benefit concerts she held directly supported the civil rights movement and related social mobilizations through the 1960s and 1970s as she helped to inspire not only political and legal change, but freedom in the arena of culture and emotion.

 

 

 

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Medieval England Conference at Fordham!

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Student Perspectives: Second Annual Women’s Liberation Teach-In

On November 7, 2017, Fordham students gathered for the second annual women’s liberation teach-in at Rodrigue’s Coffee House, on the Rose Hill campus. Part of Professor Kirsten Swinth’s Modern U.S. Women’s History, students in the teach-in emulated women’s liberation groups of the 1960s and 1970s. The teach-in is a valuable tool Dr. Swinth has used to move students from the pages of their textbooks into the lived experience of the subjects they study. Here’s what some of the students had to say about that experience. Continue reading

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Dr. Kirsten Swinth Discusses “Having It All”

Dr. Kirsten Swinth enjoyed a packed crowd earlier this month as she spoke about her upcoming book, “Having it All:” Feminist Struggles over Work and Family, 1963 – 1978 (Harvard University Press, 2018). The book comments on the challenges that working professionals have faced as they have sought to build a career while raising a family from the 1970s through the present. She also discussed Continue reading

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WEDNESDAY: Dr. Kirsten Swinth Discusses the History of Sexual Assault in America

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New Directions in Early Modern and Modern History: The 2015 Fordham Graduate Colloquium Conference, May 8 4PM

The History Department is pleased to announce the schedule for the 2015 Graduate Colloquium Conference “New Directions in Early Modern and Modern History”. The conference will take place on Friday May 8 at 4PM in Walsh Library 040.Presentations cover evenly almost the whole period from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, with presenters addressing topics as diverse as royal succession and government in Tudor England, torture and public disorder in Colonial America, and mass consumption, labor justice, and education in the modern US. Read on for the conference schedule and paper abstracts…

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Critiquing a Memorial to a Medical Legacy, in Central Park

Doctor StatueProfessor Durba Mitra‘s graduate class, Gender and History, had a discussion about gender and sexuality in the landscape of New York City next to the statue of J. Marion Sims, the so-called “Father of Gynecology” in Harlem. From 1845-1949, Sims carried out experimental surgeries on slave women to address the issue of persistent fistula after protracted labor in childbirth. He conducted these procedures on slave women without the use of anesthetics, believing that slave women did not need anesthesia for pain relief. While he is memorialized in a statue at 103rd Street and 5th Avenue for his innovative surgical techniques and his contribution to NYC medical institutions, his commitment to slavery and his use of slave women for experimentation is less well known. The memorial bears no marks of this history.
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