Lyde Cullen Sizer

Margot C. Bogert Distinguished Service Chair

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–

Undergraduate Courses 2021-2022

History

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

Open, FYS—Year

This is an interdisciplinary course in which we use literature and other cultural texts to illuminate a history of ideas, culture, and politics in the United States. The course is premised on a series of assumptions: First, the public words and stories that Americans choose to tell reflect ideas, concerns, presumptions, and intentions about their time period; they do, both intentionally and unintentionally, “political work” in revealing the world in the way that they shore up, modify, or work to change power structures. Second, this course assumes 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 the stories reflect the material world that they seek to change; novels, stories, memoirs, and critical essays all derive from a single vantage point and, therefore, need to be understood as one voice in a larger conversation coming from a particular time and a particular place. Third, these readings are largely primary sources  that are always paired with a secondary-source chapter, article, or introduction; this pairing presumes a desire on your part to grapple with the material of this moment yourselves, 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. Conference projects in the fall will focus on history and literature to 1900; in the spring, on history and literature up to just yesterday. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on student needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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Reconstructing Womanhood I: Writers and Activists in the United States, 1830–1930

Sophomore and Above, Small seminar—Fall

“But if you ask me what offices they may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will,” Margaret Fuller wrote in Woman in the 19th Century in 1845. Not 10 years later, Fanny Fern’s autobiographical protagonist tells her daughter, when asked if she would write books when a woman, “God forbid,” because “no happy woman ever writes.” In this small seminar, we will discuss what US women writers imagined they could be and why they wrote (happy or not). We will read both major and forgotten works of literary activism from women writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on issues of gender and gender convention; race, racial prejudice, and enslavement; immigration, migration, and national identity; class and elitism; and sex and sexuality.

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Reconstructing Womanhood II: Writers and Activists in the United States, 1930–1990

Sophomore and Above, Small seminar—Spring

“You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you,” begins Maxine Hong Kingston’s 1976 memoir of a girlhood among ghosts. This course will be a continuation of the work of the fall, as well as a stand-alone seminar. In this semester, we will explore the stories that women writers have not always told—focusing, in particular, on women writers from outside the mainstream of the time, women who chronicled and critiqued an American world that sought to silence them in some way. As in the fall, we will focus around issues of gender and gender convention; race, racial prejudice, and the legacy of enslavement; immigration, migration, and national identity; class and elitism; and sex and sexuality.

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Social Protest and Cultural Critique: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the United States

Advanced, Seminar—Year

“I pray you, then,” W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in his 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, “receive my little book in all charity, studying my words with me, forgiving mistake and foible for the sake of the faith and passion that is in me, and seeking the grain of truth hidden there.” In this yearlong course, we will study the words of American activists, who used story, memoir, and cultural criticism to create social change. From Thomas Paine’s brash Common Sense and a (seemingly) conservative seduction novel intended to protect young women, Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, in the late 18th century, through narratives of enslavement meant to awaken somnolent Americans to the moral tragedy in their midst, to critiques of the ills of capitalism in the 19th century, to revealing the profound injustices meted on immigrants, as well as migrants, in the early 20th century, to James Baldwin and other critics of racial prejudice in the 1960s, to the feminists of the Women’s Liberation Movement, we will analyze the “faith” and seek the “grain of truth” in these passionate cries for social justice.

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Previous Courses

History

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

Advanced, Seminar—Year

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, as this will be a course that emphasizes the synthesis of historical research and expository writing. A working knowledge of the political history of the time is necessary; students who need refreshing will be expected to regularly consult a textbook.

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Body Politics: A Cultural History of the United States

Advanced, Seminar—Year

Historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg argues, “In the 20th century, the body has become the central personal project of American girls.” Increasingly in US culture, the body is seen as the ultimate expression of the self; and that personal project has become a project of more than girls. This course will analyze the emergence of this consuming anxiety against the backdrop of other conversations about what are understood as women’s and men’s bodies: as workers, as mothers and fathers, as public figures, as sexual beings. Using cultural criticism, novels, and films, as well as history, we will discuss questions of body politics generally and how a study of the body reveals crucial cultural and political values. The way the body is displayed, hidden, used, misused, celebrated, transformed, and vilified provides a lens through which to make sense of ideals of gender, beauty, sexual politics, racial politics, labor politics, and family politics—all areas of interest in this class. Although most of the course will focus on the 20th century United States, the first third of the fall semester will be devoted to general questions about defining body politics and a quick look at the 19th century. We will end at the close of World War II in the fall and pick up at the same moment in the spring, finishing by May at or near the end of the 20th century. Conferences will involve research into primary materials. This will be a writing-intensive course, including (mostly) expository writing but also creative nonfiction.

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First-Year Studies: Literature, Culture, and Politics in US History, 1770s–1970s

Open, FYS—Year

This is an interdisciplinary course in which we use literature and other cultural texts to illuminate a history of ideas and politics in the United States. The course is premised on a series of assumptions: First, the public words and stories that Americans choose to tell reflect ideas, concerns, presumptions, and intentions about their time period; 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, this course assumes that you, the reader, have some sense of context for these stories (or that you will work to acquire one) and, therefore, have some sense of how the stories reflect the material world that they seek to change. Novels, stories, memoirs, and critical essays all derive from a single vantage point and, hence, need to be understood as one voice in a larger conversation coming from a particular time and a particular place. Third, these readings are largely primary sources and are always paired with a secondary source chapter, article, or introduction. This pairing presumes a desire on your part to grapple with the material of this moment yourselves, to write history as well as to 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. Conference projects in the fall will focus on history and literature to 1900; in the spring, on history and literature up to just yesterday.

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The Art of Democracy: A Cultural History of the United States

Advanced, Seminar—Year

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 art and lives of those more on the margins—dreamers and doers who faced heavier odds or who dreamed of a world that never arrived. Through short stories, novels, memoirs, and cultural criticism, we will revisit the story of the idea and reality of America as it has unfolded. Themes will include gender and sexuality, race and prejudice, class and class struggle, region and religion, and immigration and national identity. 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. A working knowledge of the political history of the time is necessary. Students who need refreshing will be expected to consult a textbook regularly.

Faculty

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

Open, Seminar—Year

“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 these writers are working to make “a real thing to you.” Readings will include autobiography, letters, novels, stories, and cultural criticism. Rather than following just canonical literary or intellectual history, we will investigate less well-known and popular fictions alongside classics. Major themes will include questions of politics, race, class, and regional conflict; womanhood, manhood, and sexuality; American identity and nationalism; and immigration. 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 regularly consult a textbook.

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

Open, Seminar—Year

"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 these 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, race, class, and regional conflict; womanhood, manhood, and sexuality; American identity and nationalism; and immigration. 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.

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Women, Culture, and Politics in US History

Advanced, Seminar—Year

Through fiction, memoir and cultural criticism, political activism, and popular culture, American women have expressed their ideas and 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 development or refinement of a fluent and graceful expository writing style, well buttressed by the careful use of evidence.

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Women’s History

Body Politics: A 20th-Century Cultural History of the United States

Seminar—None

Historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg argues that, “in the 20th century, the body has become the central personal project of American girls.” Increasingly in US culture, the body is seen as the ultimate expression of the self—and that personal project has become a project of more than girls. This course will analyze the emergence of this consuming anxiety against the backdrop of other conversations about what are understood as women’s and men’s bodies: as workers, as mothers and fathers, as public figures, as sexual beings. Using cultural criticism, novels, and films, as well as history, we will discuss questions of body politics generally and how a study of the body reveals crucial cultural and political values. The way the body is displayed, hidden, used, misused, celebrated, transformed, and vilified provides a lens through which to make sense of ideals of gender, beauty, sexual politics, racial politics, labor politics, and family politics—all areas of interest in this class. Although most of the course will focus on the 20th-century United States, the first third of the fall semester will be devoted to general questions about defining body politics and a quick look at the 19th century. In the fall, we will end at the close of World War II and pick up at the same moment in the spring, finishing at or near the present by May. Conferences will involve research into primary materials. This will be a writing-intensive course, including (mostly) expository writing but also creative nonfiction.

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

Graduate Seminar—Year
This seminar surveys pathbreaking 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.
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