Because Race Matters: How Women’s Historians Have Dealt with the Race Question

by Nydia Swaby

Academics are often inspired by the work of their predecessors and peers; this is especially true within the field of women’s history. Historians that acknowledge racial difference in their work share a collective understanding that examining race should be central to historical research and writing. Intellectual historian Elsa Barkley Brown and labor historians Dana Frank and Dolores Janiewski address racial difference in their scholarship and have inspired younger generations of historians to do the same. Through their scholarship Barkley Brown, Frank, and Janiewski demonstrate that in order to adequately represent the lives of women in any context, historians must acknowledge the ways in which race has shaped their subjects’ lives, and in doing so they may uncover a wealth of information that would otherwise go unrecognized.

In “What Has Happened Here: The Politics of Difference in Women’s History and Feminist Politics,” Elsa Barkley Brown considers why feminist historians are hesitant to acknowledge racial difference. According to Barkley Brown, some feminist historians and political activists fear that incorporating racial difference will muddle their attempts to “produce and defend women’s history and women’s politics” in support of a unified women’s movement.[i] However Brown insists that considering racial differences might be the way to establish a women’s community that is bonded in intellectual and political struggle.[ii] Brown takes that argument one step further and proclaims that it is unacceptable for historians to simply acknowledge racial differences. They “need to recognize not only differences but also the relational nature of those differences,” meaning that even when historians are examining the experiences of white women, they should also explore the impact race has had on shaping their lives.[iii] Barkley Brown agues that middle-class white women’s lives are not just different from working-class white, Black, and Latina women’s lives; middle-class white women live the lives they do because working-class women and women of color live the lives they do.[iv] Or as Dana Frank so poignantly stated in “White Working-Class Women and the Race Question”, “[r]ace is not just a question of difference, moreover: It’s about domination, and white women enjoyed racial privilege precisely because [women] of color were there holding them up.”[v] Continue reading “Because Race Matters: How Women’s Historians Have Dealt with the Race Question”

Dis/assembling Identity: From the Margins to the Page

by Muriel Leung

(Note: This paper is a condensed rewrite of an original piece which is currently 60 pages in length)

The emergence of Asian American poetry as a genre is not without its historical grounds. Asian Americans’ contributions to the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s eras introduced performance, song, and poetry as forms of protest against injustices towards Asian Americans during this politically volatile time. The social and political materials which informed Asian American experience were later solidified as a new type of genre by the spirit of 1980s multiculturalism in which Asian American writers as well as other writers of color began to gain mainstream appeal. The dramatic shift in social and political visibility played a valuable role in the transformation of Asian American identity discourse as it grew from grassroots arts and political movements to earning the institutional legitimacy of academic scholarship.

A discussion of Asian American poetry as a genre and “Asian American” as an identity is impossible without recognition of its social and political grounding. While these were formidable years that demonstrated the efforts of countless Asian American activists and artists to concretize their presence in the traditionally exclusionary U.S. historical narrative, contemporary Asian American identity discourse acknowledges that this identity is more prone to fracture than union. This is not to say that the works of previous Asian American scholars and activists have failed in their efforts. Rather, in the face of dramatically shifting political and social terrains, Asian American poets are challenging traditional ideas of identity formation, and ushering in new themes and styles of exploring Asian American identity which welcome fragmentation. Continue reading “Dis/assembling Identity: From the Margins to the Page”

Then and Now: The Thesis Process and the Power of History

by Anne Louise Cranwell

Photo courtesy of the author

A few years ago, a close friend of mine compared his medical school experience to inserting a hose into his mouth and turning on the water full blast.  Needless to say, it was stressful, and he had forgotten that he chose medicine to help people.  My experiences as a Women’s History grad student have not been quite so dramatic, but at times I felt as though my head was barely above water.  The feeling of “drowning” is something one might experience often; however, the feeling passes, and you just keep on swimming.  When this amazing blog began, I wrote of my early thesis travails, and when I read those words now, I think of how far I have come and how much my thesis has changed, not to mention my knowledge and my confidence.  At times, I had no clue what I was doing, but my passion for my topic never faltered. Continue reading “Then and Now: The Thesis Process and the Power of History”

Five Questions with Randi Hutter Epstein, MD

by Victoria Sollecito

Randi Hutter Epstein is the author of new book, Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank. Epstein has an MS from The Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and an M.D. from Yale University School of Medicine. She is currently an adjunct professor at Columbia and has written for the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph, Parents, and Harper’s Bazaar as well as numerous other newspapers and magazines. In Get Me Out, Epstein uses her medical knowledge and investigative skills to take an historical (and humorous) look at childbirth through the ages. She spoke to the Women’s History graduate students earlier this month and sat down with Re/Visionist to talk about the birth of her first book. Continue reading “Five Questions with Randi Hutter Epstein, MD”

Quote Roundup: Latina Legacies

Last month I posted a “Quote Roundup” from the memoir Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era and following that I posted one of my favorite Barbara Smith quotes. To backtrack, I’d like to introduce “Quote Roundup” as a quick way to show our readers how historians and other thinkers and activists before us have struggled with similar issues that we have. These ideas inspire us to continue having difficult dialogues. This week’s Quote Roundup is from Vicki L. Ruiz and Virginia Sánchez Korrol’s Latina Legacies, a book we all (RE/VISIONIST staffers) read in Lyde Cullen Sizer’s Visions/Revisions in U.S. Women’s History class. Continue reading “Quote Roundup: Latina Legacies”

More on the Texas Textbook Controversy

The Washington Post reports: Because the Texas textbook market is so large, books assigned to the state’s 4.7 million students often rocket to the top of the market, decreasing costs for other school districts and leading them to buy the same materials. Historian Eric Foner sat down with Stephen Colbert to discuss the Texas Board of Education’s recently approved changes to social studies curriculum.  Watch … Continue reading More on the Texas Textbook Controversy

The Texas Textbook Takeover

The Texas Board of Education just approved measures to change the curriculum in history, economics, and sociology.  The New York Times reports:

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a bloc of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

Since January, Republicans on the board have passed more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school. The standards were proposed by a panel of teachers.

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

Continue reading “The Texas Textbook Takeover”