Annual Meeting Roundup: “They Broke Down Barriers: They Transformed History” Session Preview

This session takes place on Thurday, April 12 at 11:00 am at the 2018 OAH Annual Meeting and is endorsed by the OAH Committee on the Status of Women in the Historical Profession and the Western History Association.
Twitter: #AM2541

Chair: Julie Gallagher, Penn State University, Brandywine

• Julie Gallagher, Penn State University, Brandywine
• Barbara Winslow, Brooklyn College/CUNY
• Waaseyaa'sin Christine Sy, University of Victoria
• Kathleen Sheldon, UCLA


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We came up with this idea for the OAH Annual Meeting because Julie Gallagher, Penn State Brandywine and I (Professor Emerita Brooklyn College, founder and director Emerita Shirley Chisholm Project Brooklyn Women's Activism) are editing a book with 18 contributors, all of whom received the prestigious Coordinating Committee of Women Historians (CCWH) $20,000 Catherine Prelinger Award. This honor is given yearly to a “non-traditional woman historian,” that is, women who did not follow the path of BA to PhD, tenure track academic position. Some of the authors are in the academy; some are independent historians; some are archivists; others public historians; they are all activists. Many faced poverty and at times homelessness. Others survived sexual abuse, family violence, medical malpractice, child custody losses, or family disownment to sustain their activist and intellectual passions. Still others navigated civil wars, guerrilla warfare, and a society riven by genocide. The contributors also have much to say about the commitment not only to writing histories of women but also preserving their voices in archives; the state of the historical profession and academia more generally; and the tangible and intangible importance of financial support that the Prelinger award provided. Confronting the demons of invisibility and lack of institutional or family support, these contributors found inspiration in their historical subjects. And in all modesty, this is a terrific, inspiring, can't-put-it-down read.

All of the contributors to the volume have furthered the effort of historical recovery, and they have complicated conventional understandings of causality, periodization, and change over time. The geographic, chronological, and topical breadth and depth of the research and writings done by these essayists is one of the many reasons to recognize, analyze, and celebrate the importance of the award.

It is our hope that those attending our session in Sacramento come away with a greater understanding and appreciation of how class, race, gender, age, location, marital status, institutional support affect scholarship, teaching, and activism. How, in overcoming sometimes almost insurmountable obstacles, these historians pushed for to pursue a life of the mind.

We also hope that this session will convince more historians to find ways to mentor and give greater financial support to those historians who may not occupy tenure and tenured track positions—to open up the field of history to even greater scholarly work; finally to know that it is possible to combine activism and intellectual pursuits.

For those interested in related works on our topic, please see Voices of Women Historians: The Personal, the Professional the Political (eds Nupur Chaudhuri and Eileen Boris) and Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (ed Deborah Gray White)

Barbara Winslow is professor emerita Brooklyn College. She is the author of the biography of the English socialist suffragette, Sylvia Pankhurst: Sexual Politics and Political Activism; co-author with Carol Berkin and Margaret Crocco, Clio in the Classroom: A Guide to Teaching U.S. Women's History; and a chapter, “Amreekah in the Classroom; Arabs in the US Social Studies Curriculum,” in a UNICEF sponsored series on how Arabs are included in various national social studies/history curricula. The founder and director emerita of the Shirley Chisholm Project of Brooklyn Women's Activism, 1945 to the Present, she authored the first scholar biography of Shirley Chisholm, Shirley Chisholm a Catalyst for Change.

Posted: March 5, 2018
Tagged: Conference, OAH Works, Previews, Around the Profession