Women's History Courses

Sarah Lawrence College’s women’s history program immerses students in a combination of historical studies, feminist theory, and gender studies. The program also draws extensively upon resources in the social sciences and literature and on a legacy of continuing activism both within and outside the College community.

Students in the program find internship opportunities with groups such as the New York Historical Society, the Tenement Museum, and the Association for Union Democracy. Students also actively promote causes and agendas, including women’s equality and reproductive freedom; prison reform; lesbian, gay, and transgender issues; and HIV/AIDS education. Close interaction with faculty members helps students find direction, chart individual paths to the degree, and research and produce original theses.

2019-2020 Courses

Women's History

Women, Culture, and Politics in US History

Graduate 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.

Faculty

Class, Race, Gender, Work: Readings in US Labor History

Graduate Seminar—Year

This course explores American labor systems and labor struggles from the colonial era to the present. Core topics include slavery and other forms of bondage, as well as wage work, the enduring legacy of settler-colonial regimes, and intersections of class, racial, and gender hierarchies. Along the way, we will focus especially on the complex relationship between oppression and collective forms of resistance—from slave revolts to political parties, from bread-and-butter unionism to revolutionary movements, and from immigrant worker centers to campaigns for gay and lesbian rights. Readings include fiction, autobiography, and scholarship ranging from classics such as W. E. B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction to recent work on labor issues and labor organizing in the 21st century.

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Who Tells Your Story? Cultural Memory and the Mediation of History

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: Gender, Race, and Media: Historicizing Visual Culture (fall).

Media scholar Marita Sturken states that cultural memory “represents the many shifting histories and shared memories that exist between a sanctioned narrative of history and personal memory.” Sanctioned sites of remembrance, such as memorials and museums, indicate the extent to which cultural memory operates on a regional, national, and global level. As memorials are created to represent a specific point or event in history, they may also be understood as forms of media or as technologies of cultural memory that produce meanings and contain their own revealing histories. This course examines the way in which objects of historical mediation, such as memorials, have a story to tell about the politics of remembrance and forgetting. We explore how, through these objects, shifting histories collapse into one another, and the technologies of cultural memory continue to take on renewed interest and urgency in the present. In addition to memorials, we focus on museums, documentaries, historical fiction, and the role of oral history in shaping regional and national historical narratives. We take an intersectional approach to this topic. Our time span falls roughly between the Civil War and the Civil Rights era and focuses primarily on the Unite States but also includes African, European, and Latin American histories of memorialization.

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Gender, Race, and Media: Historicizing Visual Culture

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Women’s history graduate students who register for this course must, in the following spring semester, take Who Tells Your Story? Cultural Memory and the Mediation of History.

What does it mean, from a historical perspective, to live in a society immersed in visual technologies? How does power figure into past and contemporary viewing practices? In this course, we will explore the field of visual culture in order to develop a critical framework through which we may understand visual perception as a set of practices that inform, and are informed by, structures of power. We will accomplish this by focusing on the rich scholarship of visual culture theory; media and communication scholarship that foregrounds gender and racial analysis; and the excellent scholarship that bridges media/visual studies and women’s history. We will work with a variety of mediums, including art, advertising, film, and digital media. Readings span the 19th century through the contemporary era. Nineteenth-century scholarship focuses on the rise of “commodity racism” and the production and circulation of imagery of the other within the context of industrialization, commercial advertising, and immigration. Twentieth-century topics include the development of modern/postmodern aesthetic and philosophical frameworks, the notion of the gaze, and the rise of a global media landscape. An examination of contemporary viewing practices will enable us to consider some of the implications of an increasingly fractured “mediascape” and hyperniche digital content.

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Diversity and Equity in Education: Issues of Gender, Race, and Class

Graduate Seminar—Year

The education system is a central institution in the socialization of young people and the maintenance of the modern nation-state. Schools support meritocratic models of society by providing opportunities for social mobility. Paradoxically, schools also reproduce gender, racial, and class inequality. In this course, we will examine the roles that schools play in the transmission of culture, formation of identity, and reproduction of social structures. Paying special attention to gender and its intersection with other social categories, we will look at practices and policies that shape students’ performance as they strive for competence, achievement, and acceptance. We will also analyze the larger political and economic contexts that shape both schools and the communities in which they are situated.

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Thesis Seminar in Women’s and Gender History

Graduate Seminar—Year

Core class required of women’s history graduate students in the two-year program. Open only to students in their thesis year.

This yearlong course is designed for students who are writing MA theses in women’s and gender history. We will discuss the historiographical dimensions of thesis work; assess various research methods, interpretive models, and theories of history; and grapple with practical questions about writing and documentation. Readings include historical with scholarship, theoretical works, and research guides. At critical junctures, students will also read and evaluate each other’s work.

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Research Methods Workshop

Workshop—Year

Core class required of all first-year women’s history graduate students.

Students in Research Methods Workshop become acquainted with the campus library; train in the use of online bibliographic databases (Project Muse, JSTOR, and others) and primary sources, including digital material online; and learn methods of locating hard-copy archives relevant to one's research. In the spring, students take a field trip to an archive, along with the instructor. This class meets monthly during the fall semester and once in the spring.

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History Colloquium

Graduate Seminar—Year

Core class required of all first-year women’s history graduate students.

Students in this course undertake independent projects in close consultation with the instructor. The projects range widely, from primary research and explorations of historiography to fieldwork and internships at agencies engaged in advocacy, policymaking, public history, or other initiatives of interest to women’s historians. While students pursue individual goals and meet one-to-one with the instructor, the whole class convenes several times each term for dinner, presentations on independent projects, and discussion of common concerns.

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

Graduate Seminar—Year

Core class required of all first-year women’s history graduate students.

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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