On International Women's Day in this Women's History Month, let's not forget that field of writing women's history has its own turbulent and surprising past. In an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Citizenship and the Origins of Women's History in the United States,
Teresa Anne Murphy reveals that some of the earliest writers of American women's history were men, and that the first women behind advancement in the field were more celebrated as poets and keepers of domestic traditions than as serious scholars. Texts written by the editor of Godey's Lady's Book or the author of The Practical Housekeeper may not qualify as works of history by today's standards, yet these writers laid the groundwork for women with broader political and historical agendas. (All the links in the excerpt were added by the editor of this blog.)
Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote to Caroline Dall in the spring of 1854
to let her know he was bowled over by her biographical sketches in The Una,
which he collectively labeled "Essays toward the History of Woman." The
questions that were being raised by the woman's rights movement,
questions inspiring Dall's writing, were the most revolutionary ones of
their generation, Higginson claimed. Encouraging Dall to continue her
historical writing, Higginson argued that the challenges posed by
woman's rights would force the wide-scale revision of all history and
all scholarship. "On Slavery or Temperance, for instance, nothing new
can be said. But in regard to Woman about all that is true is
new. For instance, all statistics must be compiled over—& all
history re-written." Given the rather modest nature of some of Dall's
historical sketches, Higginson's praise might seem a bit hyperbolic. But
Higginson was right. The demands for full citizenship that permeated
the movement for woman's rights in the 1850s required a wide ranging
reevaluation of social relations. And social relations, in order to be
legitimate, needed a history. . . .
Even if you take issue with the celebrity cameos and reporting style in the recent smash PBS documentary, Half the Sky, you can't deny that the program increased the awareness of discrimination against women, one of today's paramount moral challenges. For a deeper understanding of women's human rights, here are some additional resources to help navigate these complex problems:
Women's Human Rights is the first human rights casebook to focus specifically on women's human rights. Rich with interdisciplinary material, the book advances the study of the deprivation and violence women suffer due to discriminatory laws, religions, and customs that deny them their most fundamental freedoms. It also provides present and future lawyers the legal tools for change, demonstrating how human rights treaties can be used to obtain new laws and court decisions that protect women against discrimination with respect to employment, land ownership, inheritance, subordination in marriage, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, polygamy, child marriage, and the denial of reproductive rights.
An interdisciplinary collection, Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights examines the potential and limitations of the "women's rights as human rights" framework as a strategy for seeking gender justice. Drawing on detailed case studies from the United States, Africa, Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere, contributors to the volume explore the specific social histories, political struggles, cultural assumptions, and gender ideologies that have produced certain rights or reframed long-standing debates in the language of rights. The essays address the gender-specific ways in which rights-based protocols have been analyzed, deployed, and legislated in the past and the present, and the implications for women and men, adults and children in various social and geographical locations. Questions addressed include: What are the gendered assumptions and effects of the dominance of rights-based discourses for claims to social justice? What kinds of opportunities and limitations does such a "culture of rights" provide to seekers of justice, whether individuals or collectives, and how are these gendered? How and why do female bodies often become the site of contention in contexts pitting cultural against juridical perspectives?
Rebecca J. Cook and the contributors of Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspective analyze how international human rights law applies specifically to women in various cultures worldwide, and develop strategies to promote equitable application of human rights law at the international, regional, and domestic levels. Their essays present a compelling mixture of reports and case studies from various regions in the world, combined with scholarly assessments of international law as these rights specifically apply to women.
Drawing on domestic and international law, as well as on judgments given by courts and human rights treaty bodies, Gender Stereotyping offers perspectives on how wrongful gender stereotypes can be effectively eliminated through the transnational legal process in order to ensure women's equality and exercise of their human rights.
Are women who travel to work in such clubs victims of trafficking, sex slaves, or simply migrant women? How do these women understand their own experiences? Is antitrafficking activism helpful in protecting them? In On the Move for Love, Sealing Cheng attempts to answer these questions by following the lives of migrant Filipina entertainers working in various gijichon clubs. Focusing on their aspirations for love and a better future, Cheng's ethnography illuminates the complex relationships these women form with their employers, customer-boyfriends, and families. She offers an insightful critique of antitrafficking discourses, pointing to the inadequacy of recognizing women only as victims and ignoring their agency and aspirations. Cheng analyzes the women's experience in South Korea in relation to their subsequent journeys to other countries, providing a diachronic look at the way migrant issues of work, sex, and love fit within the larger context of transnationalism, identity, and global hierarchies of inequality.
Female Circumcision brings together African activists to examine the issue within its various cultural and historical contexts, the debates on circumcision regarding African refugee and immigrant populations in the U.S. and the human rights efforts to eradicate the practice. This volume does not focus narrowly on female circumcision as a set of ritualized surgeries sanctioned by society. Instead, the contributors explore a chain of connecting issues and processes through which the practice is being transformed in local and transnational contexts. The authors document shifts in local views to highlight processes of change and chronicle the efforts of diverse communities as agents in the process of cultural and social transformation.
Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, was one of the policy leaders interviewed for Half The Sky. A Voice for Human Rights offers
an edited collection of Robinson's public addresses, given between 1997
and 2002, when she served as United Nations High Commissioner of Human
Rights. The book also provides the first in-depth account of the work of
the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. With a foreword by
Kofi Annan and an afterword by Louise Arbour, the book will be of
interest to all concerned with international human rights, international
relations, development, and politics.
This sensitive ethnography reveals the methods and mindsets of doctors, patients, donors, and sellers in Israel's living kidney transplant bureaus. Matching Organs with Donors describes how these actors identify and adjudicate suitable matches between donor and recipient using terms borrowed from definitions of kinship.
The author of the hugely influential The Printing Press as an Agent of Change offers a magisterial and highly readable account of five centuries of ambivalent attitudes toward printing and printers. Once again, she makes a compelling case for the ways in which technological developments and cultural shifts are intimately related.
Not in This Family shows how gays and their heterosexual parents both have animated each other's sensibilities, consciousness, and even culture and politics. Author Heather Murray suggests a reciprocal family life and complicates the notion of gay banishment.
Sweet Liberty offers a history of Martinique and its relationship to metropolitan France during the final years of slavery in the French empire. It argues that an Atlantic-world approach reveals how race, slavery, class, and gender shaped what it meant to be French on both sides of the ocean.
Book reviewers: to request a press copy, contact Saunders Robinson. Educators: to request an exam copy for course use consideration, click here.
When I mentioned to a friend that my new book was called The Queen’s Hand, his eyes got wide. “You mean like in Game of Thrones?” he said. Sadly for my hopes of record-breaking sales, no. But this is one of those cases where reality is cooler than fiction. In George R. R. Martin’s epic, the King’s (or Queen’s) Hand is an official who handles the dull administrative work of ruling so that the monarch can feast and joust and hold court. In thirteenth-century Iberia (the peninsula now occupied by Spain and Portugal), the queen’s hand was literally that—her hand, the symbol of her authority. She didn’t delegate her power to someone else; she used it herself.
The Middle Ages isn’t generally thought of as a period friendly to women at all, much less to powerful ones. Still, we’re all familiar with a handful of medieval and early modern women who had extraordinary influence: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of Castile, Elizabeth I of England. The subject of my book, Berenguela of Castile, is one of their lesser-known peers. But the focus on women like Berenguela as “exceptions to the rule” has the strange effect of reinforcing old myths about medieval women. Were these women exceptional? Oh, yes. But they didn’t come from nowhere, and their success depended on navigating a society that was much more complex than these myths assume.
"Once a rare and shocking occurrence, the number of females engaging in terrorism in is on the rise. Who are these women and what is driving them to kill? Mia Bloom, a leading expert on suicide terrorism, answers these questions and more."
Every month, Paul Chase in the Penn Press Journals department invites our blog readers to download a complimentary article from one of our many scholarly journals.
Paul's Pick for August is "Women on the Edge: Life at Street Level in the Early Republic" by Gloria L. Main, Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
"Historians are taking a fresh look at life and work in early American cities," writes Main. "They have long appreciated the vital economic and cultural roles played by cities through the ages. It is only recently, however, that they have discovered that we cannot understand how those cities actually functioned without taking into account the economic contributions of ordinary women and children, bound and free."
Women performed critical functions in the economies of early American cities, but female members of all classes found themselves disadvantaged by both the law and the market, where coverture, marginal jobs, and low wages forced their dependency on men. Yet, even when fully employed, men of the “working poor” did not earn enough to support their families. As a result, most poor families relied on the earnings of mothers and children to get by.
Click here to download this free article and learn more about the Journal of the Early Republic.
Check the Penn Press Log in September for Paul's next pick.
Are all words fair in love and war propaganda? In the latest volume of Common-place, Nicole Eustace, author of 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism, considers how and why the language of love and romance become the language of war. She argues that the "language of courtly seduction" gave deeper meaning to Captain Oliver Perry's naval actions by tying them to popular themes in the American public imagination.
Recounting Perry's move from the Lawrence to the Niagara, Tait gushed, "even after victory had perched on the standard of the enemy, awarding her favor to superior force, Captain Perry, by the gallantry of his continued perseverance, enticed her back into his arms." Victory, in the form of the winged goddess Nike, had perched for a time on the British flag mast. But the "gallant" Perry had successfully wooed the lovely lady and won "her" feminine favor. Politicians portrayed Perry's action as the successful suit of a godly lover, one who lured victory away from his rival and into his own embrace.
Building Fortress Europe is an ethnographic examination of the human, social, and political consequences of developing a specialized, targeted, and legally advanced border regime in the enlarged European Union, exploring the intersection between border policing and the lives of migrants, framed by the contradictions of European integration.
"A splendid contribution to the scholarship of politics and marriage. . . . An exemplary work in a neglected field."--Anne Norton, University of Pennsylvania
In American Marriage, Priscilla Yamin argues that marriage is a political institution to which actors turn either to stave off or to promote change over issues of race, gender, class, or sexuality. In the political struggle, certain marriages are pushed as necessary for the good of society, while others are contested or prevented.
Ruth Mazo Karras, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Medieval Studies at the University of Minnesota, discusses the case of an unmarried couple in fifteenth-century Paris. The incident is one of many in her latest Penn Press book, Unmarriages: Women, Men, and Sexual Unions in the Middle Ages. The legal and religious details of this extramarital union are particular to the Middle Ages, yet the likely motivations of the people involved seem timeless.
Those in search of simple, old fashioned models of love and marriage might be disappointed by some of the realities of medieval coupling. "Tradition is always invented," says Karras, who reminds us that the traditional marriage that people in the twenty-first century have invented for themselves is not really that similar to the state of matrimony in the Middle Ages.