Women's History Courses

Sarah Lawrence’s Women’s History Program immerses students in a combination of historical studies, feminist theory, and gender studies. It 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 such groups 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.

2017-2018 Courses

Women's History

History Matters: Advanced Work in the Practical Application of Historical Knowledge of Women and Gender

Graduate Seminar—Summer

Core class required of all Women’s History graduate students finishing the accelerated track.

This course combines an intensive one-week seminar with independent study, culminating in the capstone paper.

Usable Past

Graduate Seminar—Summer

Core class required of all first-year Women’s History graduate students in the accelerated track.

This intensive seminar is designed for students and practitioners who seek to apply historical knowledge to issues of gender policy and advocacy. Readings, discussions, and a wide range of guest speakers will address policy initiatives and advocacy projects that make impacts on women’s lives on local, national, and international levels. Students will acquire skills and knowledge essential to careers in public service, NGOs, and elsewhere in the nonprofit sector.
Faculty

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.

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

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), 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 with the instructor. This class meets monthly during the fall semester and once in the spring.
Faculty

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. These 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.
Faculty

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.
Faculty

Gender, Race, and Media: Historicizing Visual Culture

Graduate Seminar—Year

In this course, we will engage with 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. Throughout the semester and the year, we will consider the following questions: What does it mean, from a historical perspective, to live in a society that seemingly privileges visual perception? How does power figure into past and contemporary viewing practices? How have visual technologies been leveraged to situate alternative practices of looking more squarely within the Western public’s fields of vision? 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 work that bridges media/visual studies and women’s history. We will work with a variety of examples, including art, advertising, print magazines, television programming, film, and social media. Readings roughly span the 19th century through the contemporary era. Through our readings, we will observe the ways in which the 19th-century production and circulation of images of the “other” and a gendered gaze began to take on a particular potency in the United States and Europe with the growth of industrialization, commercial advertising, and immigration. Twentieth-century scholarship will focus on, among other things, the rise of a global media landscape in which the lines between producers and consumers of media become increasingly blurred. An examination of contemporary viewing practices will enable us to consider some of the implications of a radically fractured “mediascape” and its attendant struggles over ownership of meaning, as media technologies enable visual processes of signification to spin out wildly in unpredictable and surprising directions.

Faculty

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.

Faculty

Gender and Nationalisms

Graduate Seminar—Year

Nationalism can be understood as a project simultaneously involving construction(s) of memory, history, and identity. In this seminar, we will identify the multiple and shifting dimensions of nationalism as a world historical phenomenon. Central to our focus will be the centrality and particular constructions of gender in different national projects. Attention will be paid to nationalism in its colonial and contemporary trajectories. Questions to be addressed include the following: What is the relationship between nationalism and identity? Which symbols/languages are called upon to produce a sense of self and collective identity? What are the various inclusions, exclusions, and silences that particular historically constituted nationalisms involve? Is nationalism necessarily a positive force? If not, under what circumstances, in what ways, and for whom does it pose problems? What is the relationship of nationalism(s) to minorities and socially/politically marginalized groups? How is pluralism and difference constructed and treated? How do the same positions (e.g., issues of cultural authenticity and identity) take on a different meaning at diverse historical moments? How does the insider/outsider relationship alter in different periods and conceptualizations? Women have been interpellated and have participated within nationalist movements in a variety of ways. The dynamics and contradictions of such involvement will be analyzed closely. We will strive to explore the implications of these processes for women’s sense of self, citizenship, and belonging at specific periods and over time. In the spring semester, we will turn our attention more specifically to performances of nationalism through institutional and popular cultural arrangements. Under the former category, we will look at issues of migration, immigration, and exile; public policy and international relations; war and conflict. In the arena of popular culture, we will examine the production of nationalism(s) through the mass media, sports, film, museums and exhibitions, and tourism. Conference work may include an examination of a specific nationalist movement, theoretical issues pertaining to nationalism(s), memory, identity, performances of nationalism(s) in popular culture and the mass media, and the interplay between institutional and everyday constructions of nationalism in specific settings.

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Gender and History in China: Beyond Eunuchs and Concubines

Graduate Seminar—Year

This seminar is a sustained historical exploration of gender in the Chinese context, which is not only significant in its own right but also serves to complicate some of the common Euro-American assumptions about family dynamics, emotional life, and gender hierarchies. We will treat female and male as historically constructed categories, examining how both have been tied to modes of power (familial, social, economic, and political). In other words, how men and women have been imagined and portrayed, made and mobilized, at different times. We will confront head on stereotypes about the passive Chinese woman and the Confucian family, asking where do we find and how do we understand women’s agency within the permutations of the traditional Chinese family? We will interrogate Imperial Era family conflicts and the practice of foot binding to highlight female agency within, and complicity with, the gender hierarchy. The appearance of feminism in the early 20th century and its subsequent fate will provide a window on how gender shaped revolution and how gender was, in turn, shaped by it. And rather than leave masculinity as an assumed constant, we will examine historical and cultural constructions of what it meant to be a man in China: Located between the poles of the scholar and the warrior, Chinese manliness exhibits unfamiliar contours and traits. The course also covers same-sex desire in both traditional and modern China. For example, in the late Imperial Era, we will look at homoeroticism among fashionable elite men and at female “marriage resisters” who dared to form all-women communities in a society where marriage was virtually universal. Class readings consist primarily of historical scholarship; however, (translated) primary sources pepper the course and include ritual prescriptions, (auto)biographies, essays, drama, and fiction that ground our inquiries into the authenticity of Chinese voices. This seminar requires no prior knowledge of Chinese history.

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