Women Scholars on the Rise: Emerging Research in American History

Solicited by the OAH Committee on the Status of Women in the Historical Profession

Saturday, April 4, 2020, 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

Type: Lightning Round

Tags: Gender and Sexuality; International Relations; Race

Abstract

The Committee on the Status of Women in the Historical Profession highlights outstanding research conducted by women scholars at the beginning of their careers each year at the OAH’s annual meeting. This year, our lightning round will showcase innovative and potentially field-changing projects-in-progress on any topic in American history by early career scholars, including graduate students, adjunct instructors, postdoctoral scholars, and tenure-track professors. Each scholar will have a few minutes to give an “elevator pitch” of their research before we open the floor for discussion, which a senior scholar will moderate. The format challenges emerging historians to explain the importance of their work quickly, situating their project in its area of study, sharing research methods, and outlining its interventions and highlights in 5 minutes or less. Our lightning round offers emerging scholars a chance to present research at any stage and receive feedback on their work in an inviting and collegial environment.

Papers Presented

Californiana Legacies: Navigating Family and Popular Memories in California’s Borderlands

In my research on the del Valle family, I argue that the intersections of family histories and popular memories are key to identity formation in the California borderlands. As stellar record keepers and preservers of family history, women in the del Valle family made concerted efforts to preserve their family history and narrate a story of California’s past at critical historical moments when the political and social significance of Spanish Mexican families was under threat (1860–1910). The del Valle women at times appropriated and countered the romantic images and popular memories of California often boosted by white Americans. I argue that they sought forums and narratives that clearly staked out their authority in claiming a California past. By looking closely at practices such as archive building, cultural performances, and preservation efforts, my research reveals how women navigated the shifting geopolitical and cultural borders through the strategic use of legacies.

Presented By
Margie Brown-Coronel, CSU Fullerton

“Great Influence on My Mind”: The Impact of Literacy on Armed Enslaved Insurrections

Much of what is commonly known about the enslavement of African people favors a narrative that suggests that most enslaved Africans were illiterate. This position lends itself to the foregone conclusion of African gullibility and servitude. The phrase “slaves couldn’t read” reinforces the notion that enslaved Africans had no knowledge of the complexity of written language forms and their social utility. Unfortunately, much of what has been taught about the enslavement of African people suggests that the entire enslaved population arrived with no literary history. This historical fallacy is the result of the misuse of history as propaganda to support a narrative that enslaved Africans—and thus their descendants—were incapable of cognitive processes. Contrary to this false narrative is the truth that many enslaved Africans used literacy as a tool to secure not only their freedom but also the freedom of others—particularly through armed enslaved insurrection. On many occasions, individuals who led armed enslaved insurrections were literate members of enslaved communities. The point that these individuals were literate is often made in passing while focusing on other factors such as bitterness and acts of violence that influenced conspiracies to rebel against chattel slavery. The purpose of this research is to illustrate the impact of literacy on the efficacy of three insurrections in 1800, 1822 and 1831. I argue that literacy played a pivotal role in the construction of ideals of freedom not only for leaders themselves but for their enslaved kin as well.

Presented By
La’Neice Marie Littleton, Clark Atlanta University

Trading Silk for Khaki: The Women’s Army Corps and the Contest over Soldier Womanhood, 1963–1978

“It wouldn’t be today’s Army without today’s women,” declared the army in 1973. My work analyzes contradictions experienced by women while serving as “today’s woman” in “today’s Army.” Typically, scholars have ignored the Women’s Army Corps’ definition of femininity and womanhood in the 1960s and 1970s and overlooked how WACs rejected the status quo. My project explores soldier womanhood in two ways. First, it analyzes the WAC ideal through recruitment pamphlets, videos, handbooks, and fashion shows. Second, it explores how servicewomen rebelled by mobilizing the tactics of second-wave feminists and civil rights activists. As the WAC instructed soldiers to defer to men and “act like girls,” queer WACs demanded sexual privacy and military inclusion. African American WACs rioted to protest discrimination and cultural exclusion. Ultimately, WACs performed several identities simultaneously: citizen-soldier, feminist, conformist, and activist, showing that scholars should expand the understanding of soldier womanhood in the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s.

Presented By
Margaret Blount Montgomery, University of Alabama

We Work to Bloom: Black Women’s Intellectual and Economic Activism in Postwar Milwaukee

This project examines the intersections between black women’s intellectual and economic activism in post–World War II Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It illuminates their methods for economic justice as well as the intellectual approaches they used to amplify their messages of economic freedom for black people in the city. Their methods for economic justice included, but were not limited to community organizing, coalition building, and direct action. Their intellectual approaches included encouraging everyday literary practices; intervening in and challenging popular narratives through testifying and storytelling; and creating intellectual spaces to address economic injustice. Critically examining black women’s activism from this perspective illuminates the nature of black people’s struggles as well as black women’s strategies for economic justice in the urban, industrial Midwest.

Presented By
Crystal Marie Moten

The New Age Lynching: Police Brutality and its Effects on Communities of Color in the United States

In fall of 2013, the public history course at Johnson C. Smith University created a museum-style exhibition entitled, “The New Age Lynching: Police Brutality and its Effects on Communities of Color in the United States.” This work, curated primarily by students, initially illuminated recent acts of police brutality against black men in America. Over the next two years, subsequent students of the course chose to expand the project by adding the stories of other communities of color, including women. The exhibition has continued and continues to grow each year. The purposes of this project are to say the names of and remember the lives lost at the hands of those sworn to protect the public. Further, this exhibition captures the realities, grief, and struggles of the surviving loved ones. The goal of this showcase is not to slander authorities or promote being antipolice. Rather, it aims to bring awareness of the often misuse of power in communities of color. The exhibition humanizes its victims by including images of the person and their loved ones, personal items or duplicates, and news articles that illuminate the humanity as well as the tragedies of the victims. The long-term intent of this student-led project is to channel the energy of pioneers such as Ida B. Wells, who proactively kept her own records and made known to the public the atrocities of early 20th-century lynching. As such, this exhibition serves as a community database and research center where students memorialize victims of the new age civil rights fight against police brutality. Starting in the spring of 2019, the groundwork of the exhibition was carried on by students at Florida A&M University where they continue the vision of the project, which includes inspiring open, honest, and safe conversations all while transforming students into empowered, proactive, and influential student-activists. This exhibit offers an opportunity, on the communities’ own terms, to deconstruct barriers of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

The goal of this showcase is not to slander authorities or promote being anti-police. Rather, the aim is to bring awareness of the often misuse of power in communities of color. "The New Age Lynching: Police Brutality and its Effects on Communities of Color in the United States" humanizes its victims by including images of the person and their loved ones, personal items or its duplicate, and news articles that illuminate the humanity as well as the tragedies of the victims. The long-term intent of this student-led project is to channel the energy of pioneers
such as Ida B. Wells who proactively kept her own records and made known to the public the atrocities of early 20th century lynching. As such, "The New Age Lynching: Police Brutality and its Effects on Communities of Color in the United States" serves as a community database and research center where students memorialize victims of the new age civil rights fight against police brutality.

Starting Spring 2019, the groundwork of the exhibition was carried on by students at Florida A&M University where they continue in the vision of the project which includes inspiring open, honest, and safe conversations all while transforming students into empowered, proactive, and influential student-activists. This exhibit offers an opportunity, on the communities’ own terms, to deconstruct barriers of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Presented By
Tiffany Packer, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Salvage Tourism: Performing Indigeneity in Historical Pageants and Outdoor Dramas

My research examines three outdoor theatrical productions: The Happy Canyon Indian Pageant and Wild West Show, Unto These Hills, and Tecumseh! At first glance, they have little in common; they had disparate economic impacts, different cast compositions, and a wide geographic and chronological range. All three began in different moments of regional economic uncertainty, but each is based on native history and marketed to nonnative tourists. However, I argue that these productions epitomize what I call “salvage tourism,” which combines the frameworks of salvage ethnography and heritage tourism. Salvage tourism is tied to nonnative attempts to salvage native cultures before they supposedly degenerate from stereotypical ideals of a pristine Indian past. It builds on ideas of a nostalgic past through the nation-building practices of tourism and the creation of a distinctly American identity. This allows tourists to find sanctuary, safety, and security in performances of misremembered pasts. These collective acts reiterate and reify a national identity grounded in indigenous history.

Presented By
Katrina Phillips, Macalester College

Exploring the Entwined Impulses of Spirituality, Psychology, and Radical Politics through the Firestone Sisters and Demita Frazier

The new research I will discuss examines three belief systems that have animated the lives of many American women in the twentieth century—radical politics, spirituality, and psychology—through two lenses. The first is that of the Firestone sisters, Shulamith, Laya, and Tirzah. Shulamith was an eminent radical feminist theorist whose life was destroyed by mental illness. Laya was a psychotherapist based in Hollywood, Florida. The youngest sister, Tirzah, is a Jewish Renewalist rabbi based in Boulder, Colorado. Through oral histories I am conducting with the surviving sisters and by reading texts produced by all three, I am atttempting to understand commonalities and differences in their belief systems. The second lens will focus on the life of Demita Frazier, a black feminist active in radical politics for more than five decades. Aside from her work as a theorist for the Combahee River Collective and an organizer in many arenas, she is also an unaligned Buddhist and works as a life coach. Through oral history in particular, I intend to explore the threads of spirituality, radical politics, and psychology, this time asking how they work together within a single life. My hope with these case studies is to explore circumstances under which these different approaches have been evoked or looked to, and to examine how these impulses have evolved historically.

Presented By
Lana Dee Povitz, Middlebury College

Small Finds, Big Lives: Daily Life and Labor of Bondpeople in Urban Antebellum America

In their 2014 edited volume, Slavery and Freedom in Savannah, Leslie M. Harris and Daina Ramey Berry declared, “We are amid a renaissance in the study of slavery and emancipation in the United States.” While many recent works explore the economic, environmental, political, and social histories of plantation slavery, urban slavery remains largely obscured in both academic work and the popular imagination. I would love feedback on my manuscript idea for a comparative labor and social history of enslaved people in urban antebellum America—specifically Washington, D.C., Charleston, New Orleans, and Louisville. My work will juxtapose the economic impact and laws, labor conditions, social organizations, and living conditions of bondpeople in these cities. To do so, I plan to draw on the built environment and archaeological record to reconstruct the textures of daily life and labor.

Presented By
Kelly Kean Sharp, Luther College

“Tell Ya Mama to Surrender”: Gender, Revolution, and Development in Nicaragua, 1972–1995

My dissertation project examines the influence of development programs on gender roles and family relations before, during, and after the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. Comparing U.S.-funded programs in the 1970s and 1990s with the revolution’s programs in the 1980s, I demonstrate how these supposedly antagonistic development ideologies shared fundamental beliefs in the need to “integrate” and “incorporate” women into national economies to remedy economic and social crises. Using government sources, oral histories, and publications by Nongovernmental Organizations and revolutionary organizations from the United States, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, this transnational history of development moves among congressional hearings, agency offices, farmers cooperatives, and refugee settlements to analyze the ways development programs’ designated beneficiaries on the ground responded to and reinterpreted projects. In light of Nicaragua’s contemporary uprising, my work embraces the challenges and rewards of activist scholarship and the influence of the afterlives of revolutions on writing history.

Presented By
Sarah Louisa Sklaw, New York University

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Kabria Baumgartner, University of New Hampshire

Presenter: Margie Brown-Coronel, CSU Fullerton

Presenter: La’Neice Marie Littleton, Clark Atlanta University

Presenter: Margaret Blount Montgomery, University of Alabama

Presenter: Crystal Marie Moten

Presenter: Tiffany Packer, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Presenter: Katrina Phillips, Macalester College

Presenter: Lana Dee Povitz, Middlebury College

Presenter: Kelly Kean Sharp, Luther College

Presenter: Sarah Louisa Sklaw, New York University