Lyde Cullen Sizer

Undergraduate Discipline


Graduate Discipline

Women's History Program

BA, Yale University. MA, PhD, Brown University. Special interests include the political work of literature, especially around questions of gender and race; US cultural and intellectual history of the 19th and early 20th centuries; and the social and cultural history of the US Civil War. Authored The Political Work of Northern Women Writers and the American Civil War, 1850-1872, which won the Avery O. Craven Award from the Organization of American Historians. The Civil War Era: An Anthology of Sources, edited with Jim Cullen, was published in 2005; book chapters are included in Love, Sex, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History; Divided Houses: Gender and the American Civil War; and A Search for Equity. SLC, 1994–

Current undergraduate courses

Activists and Intellectuals: A Cultural and Political History of Women in the United States, 1775-1975


Through activism and organizing of all kinds, through fiction, memoir, poetry, and cultural criticism, through dance, visual art, and sport, and through the quotidian choices of daily life, American women have expressed their ideas, their desires, their values, and their politics. This course will approach US history through the words and actions of all kinds of American women from the late 18th century through the late 20th century. Using a variety of primary sources mixed with histories narrow and broad, we will analyze the ways in which women worked to survive and to intervene in the cultural and political world. Themes will include race, class, ethnicity, immigration and migration, sexuality, and, of course, gender. This is not a classic survey but, rather, readings in the cultural history of the nation framed with political and social history.

Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Current graduate courses

Visions/Revisions: Issues in the History of Women and Gender

This seminar surveys path-breaking studies in the history of women, gender and related subjects. Course readings, which include both theory and historiography, exemplify major trends in feminist scholarship since the 1960s—from early challenges to androcentric worldviews to the current stress on differences among women and multiple systems of dominance and subordination. Class discussions range from fundamental questions (e.g., What is feminism? Is “women” a meaningful category?) to theoretical, interpretive, and methodological debates among women’s historians. The course is designed to help advanced students of women’s history clarify research interests by assessing the work of their predecessors. MA candidates will also use the course to define thesis projects.


Previous courses

Alternative Americas: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the United States, 1776-1976


The story most typically told of America focuses on the path taken, the victors and the nature of their victory, the dreamers whose dreams were realized, and central figures in a largely political narrative. In this course, we will revisit the United States through the lives of those more on the margins—dreamers and doers who faced heavier odds or who dreamed of a world that never arrived. Through the words, dreams, memories, and exhortations of African Americans, workers, women, immigrants, and cultural critics of all sorts, we will revisit the story of the idea of America as it has unfolded. Readings will include primary sources from the time period, as well as historical articles and books. In the spring, we will add film. As we read and watch, we will also write. This will be a course that emphasizes the synthesis of historical research and expository writing.


First-Year Studies: Literature, Culture, and Politics in US History, 1840s-2000s


This course is premised on a series of assumptions: First, that the public words and stories that Americans choose to tell reflect ideas, concerns, presumptions, and intentions about their time period and that they do, intentionally and unintentionally, “political work” in revealing the world in the way that they shore up, modify, or work to change power structures. Second, that you, the reader, have some sense of context for these stories (or that you will work to acquire one) and, hence, have some sense of how they reflect the material world that they seek to change. Novels, stories, memoirs, and critical essays all derive from a single vantage point and need to be understood as one voice in a larger conversation coming from a particular time and a particular place. Third, that these readings are largely primary sources (always paired with a secondary source chapter, article, or introduction) and that this pairing presumes a desire on your part to grapple with the material of this moment yourselves and to write history as well as read it. Themes of particular significance will include the construction of national identity, class consciousness, the experience and meaning of immigration, slavery (and particularly race), and the political significance of gender and sexuality. In the fall, authors will include the classics and the merely popular; for example, Margaret Fuller, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Kate Chopin, W.E.B. Dubois, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, along with Fanny Fern, Louisa May Alcott, and Horatio Alger, among others. In the spring, we will take up authors such as Zora Neal Hurston, Carson McCullers, Ralph Ellison, J.D. Salinger, Mary McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, Maxine Hong Kingston, Dorothy Allison, Gloria Naylor, Louise Erdrich, and Thomas Pynchon. Conference projects in the fall will focus on history and literature to 1930; in the spring, on history and literature up to just yesterday. 


The Political and Cultural Work of Women Writers in the United States, 1790-1990


“This is what I want you to do,” novelist Rebecca Harding Davis wrote in 1861. “I want you to hide your disgust, take no heed to your clean clothes, and come right down with me—here, into the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia. I want you to hear this story. There is a secret down here, in this nightmare fog, that has laid dumb for centuries: I want to make it a real thing to you.” Using the literary and expository writing of US women, we will explore American stories and secrets, what women writers are working to make “a real thing to you.” Readings will include autobiography, novels, stories, and cultural criticism. Rather than just following canonical literary or intellectual history, we will investigate less well-known and popular fictions alongside classics. Major themes will include questions of politics, class, and regional conflict; womanhood, manhood, and sexuality; American identity and nationalism; immigration and race. Course work will focus on literary and print culture, but students may explore other media in conference. Particular emphasis will be placed on careful research of the historical context when analyzing primary documents from the period. A working knowledge of the political history of the time is necessary; students who need refreshing will be expected to consult a textbook regularly.


Women, Culture, and Politics in US History


Through fiction, memoir and cultural criticism, political activism, and popular culture, American women have expressed their ideas, their desires, their values, and their politics. This course will approach US history through the words and actions of all kinds of American women from the early 19th century through the late 20th century. Using both primary sources and histories narrow and broad, we will explore questions of race, class, sexuality, and gender and analyze the ways in which women have intervened and participated in the political and cultural world. This is a research seminar. Considerable attention will be paid to the gathering and parsing of archival and other types of primary evidence, careful and trenchant argumentation, and the development or refinement of a fluent and graceful expository writing style.