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.


Women's History

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.


History Colloquium

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.


Thesis Seminar in Women’s and Gender History

This yearlong course is designed for students who are writing M.A. 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 scholarship, theoretical works, and research guides. At critical junctures, students will also read and evaluate each others’ work.


Gender and Nationalisms

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, 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 can 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.


The Promise of the City: Urbanism and Black America

In 1992, Los Angeles erupted in violence. African Americans took to the streets to protest the verdict in the Rodney King trial and to express their frustration over a system they believed had failed them. Twenty-three years later, African Americans and their allies took to the streets once more—this time in Baltimore—to protest police violence against Freddie Gray and the larger issues of systemic discrimination, political corruption, and, as one activist explained, “the heartbreak of broken promises.” This year long seminar will explore urbanism with a focus on African American communities. Of central concern is how city life is shaped by race, class, and gender. From the Great Migration and to current times, this course asks how urban life creates both opportunities and obstacles for African American men, women, and children. Drawing from history, sociology, and anthropology, we will look at the ways cities have structured the lives of African Americans and how African Americans and other minority groups have left their mark—economically, politically, and culturally—on American cities. In the fall semester, we will concentrate on structural features such as the built environment, housing, transportation, political participation and representation, economic development, segregation, policing and crime, social services, and the education system. In the spring semester we will turn our attention to cultural production, identity, language, sexuality, religion, leisure, the arts, and consumerism. This is a graduate seminar with limited space for advanced undergraduates with permission from the instructor.


Public Stories, Private Lives: Methods of Oral History

Oral history methodology has moved from a contested approach to studying history to an integral method of learning about the past. This is because oral histories allow us to gain an understanding of past events from a diverse array of vantage points. Methods of recording oral history also allow the possibility of bringing private stories into the public. In contrast, public history in the form of monuments, museums, and World Heritage Sites are consciously preserved in order to emphasize particular aspects of a national, regional, or local past that their protectors deem to be important. Who owns this history? Is it Civil War reenactors, who dedicate their weekends to remembering that war? Is it the African Americans who return to West Africa in search of their African past or the West Africans who want to forget about their slave-trading past? What happens when the methods for interpreting public and oral histories combine? This course places particular attention on the importance of oral history in tracing memories of the past. We will discuss how Africanist and feminist scholars have used oral history to study the history of underrepresented groups. We will also investigate how methods of oral history and public history can be used in reconstructing the local history of our surrounding community (i.e., Yonkers, Bronxville, Westchester County).


Health Policy/Health Activism

How does your race, class, gender, and where you live and work influence whether you get sick? Why does the United States spend more on health care than other countries yet rank relatively low on many measures of good health? How likely is it that you will have access to health care when you need it? Can we make affordable health care available to more people? What do we mean by “public health”? What is the role of government in providing health care or managing the health of populations? In this course, we will investigate these questions directly and by studying health social movements. Health activists have not only advocated for particular diseases and for research funding but also have sought to reduce stigma, uncover health disparities and environmental injustices, and democratize medical research. We will begin the year by studying these social movements in conjunction with studying patterns of ill health; i.e., who gets sick and why? We will then examine the history and contemporary meanings of “health,” examining the moral values attached to health and illness and questions of medical authority and medical knowledge. In the spring semester, we will turn to health-care systems, both within the United States and globally. We will study programs of health-care reform in the United States and other countries, international health policy, and specific health policy issues such as vaccination, genetic screening, and the ethics of medical research. Throughout the year, we will explore—through the lens of health—broad questions of social justice, inequalities, governance, activism, and the environment.