Call for Papers: Women’s History in the Digital World 2015


Women’s History in the Digital World 2015, the second conference of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education, will be held on the campus of Bryn Mawr College on May 21-22.

We aim to bring together experts, novices, and all those in between to share insights, lessons, and resources for the many projects emerging at the crossroads of history, the digital humanities, and women’s and gender studies. Continuing a conversation begun at our inaugural meeting in 2013, the conference will feature the work of librarians and archivists, faculty, students, and other stakeholders in the development of women’s and gender histories within digital scholarship.

Opening keynote, Women's History in a Digital World, 2013 at Bryn Mawr College.

Opening keynote, Women’s History in a Digital World, 2013.

The conference will feature a keynote address by Claire Bond Potter, Professor of History and Co-Director of the Humanities Action Lab at The New School for Public Engagement.

Panels will be scheduled during the afternoon on Thursday, May 21, and on Friday, May 22; a projects showcase and digital lab will offer opportunities for unstructured conversation and demonstrations.

We invite individual papers or full panel proposals on women’s and gender history projects with a digital component, investigating the complexities of creating, managing, researching and/or teaching with digital resources and digitized materials.

All thematic areas, geographies, and time periods are welcome: this is a chance to share knowledge, network, and promote collaborations that locate new possibilities.

To submit a proposal, please send the following information by email to

  • complete contact information including current email and institutional affiliation, if any;
  • short (150-200 word) biography for each presenter; and
  • abstract (s) of the proposed presentation (500 words for single paper, poster, or demonstration, or 1,500-2000 words for panels of 3 papers)

The deadline for submissions is Friday, January 16, 2015.

For updates, follow the Greenfield Digital Center on Twitter @GreenfieldHWE and the conference hashtag, #WHDigWrld15.

* * *

Women’s History in the Digital World is organized by The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education with the support of Bryn Mawr College Libraries and The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

This Wednesday: Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon for Women in STEM

Wednesday, October 22nd
Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College

4:00pm Introduction to Wikipedia
5:00 – 7:30pm Editing Session

Learn how to write articles, add images, and update citations on Wikipedia.
(Or come for the snacks.)

Bring a laptop to Canaday Room 205 this Wednesday for a Wikipedia editing session and an instructional lecture from Mary Mark Ockerbloom, Wikipedian in Residence at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. We will be working on articles related to women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, in honor of the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. You are also free to edit based on your own projects and interests–but we’re especially interested in adding more women’s history to Wikipedia.

See our previous blog post for more background information. Further details of the event and potential article projects can be found on the Wikipedia event page.

No experience necessary!

Snacks will be provided!

Bring a laptop!

Questions/RSVP to

New Ada

“Gender and Generations”: Oral Histories of Colleges and Universities at OHA 2014


Greetings from Madison, WI!

Picture perfect: Fall break in Madison, Wisconsin.

It’s fall break at Bryn Mawr, and I’ve been traveling to share work with colleagues at the Oral History Association’s annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. As someone who has been teaching, advising, and doing oral history research for just over two years, this was my first visit to the OHA, and it was an energizing meeting of scholars and other practitioners from around the country. The conference was an opportunity to think critically about the stories we collect and who tells them; given our work at the Greenfield Digital Center, I was excited to spend a lot of the conference talking about (and listening to) histories of higher education, and women’s higher education in particular.

I had been invited to present at the OHA by American Studies scholar Carol Quirke, who is documenting the founding years of her institution — SUNY College at Old Westbury — with the site Experiments. Together with CUNY oral historian Sharon Utakis, our panel, “Places of Privilege, Places of Struggle: Oral Histories of Activism and Movement Building in the University” considered how oral history projects with the stated purpose of collecting evidence of social movements on campus “live” in University collections, and how they might inform current campus conversations. My paper, drawn from projects I previously directed at the University of Chicago, focused specifically on pedagogy, and what it means for oral history interviews to be the meeting point between past and present LGBTQ student activists. As the project Closeted/Out in the Quadrangles: A LGBTQ History of the University of Chicago enters its fourth year of work, and as I’ve moved on to Bryn Mawr, I find myself more and more compelled by the idea of college campuses as intergenerational sites of history and memory, with possibilities for current students, alumnae/i, faculty, and library staff to work together in expanding the scope of what counts as campus history.

Kate Eichhorn, The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order (Temple University Press, 2013)

Kate Eichhorn, The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order (Temple University Press, 2013)

I couldn’t help using the conference as a place to share the oral histories Brenna Levitin, Class of 2016, collected this summer as part of her digital project “We Are/We Have Always Been”: A Multi-Linear History of LGBT Experiences at Bryn Mawr College, 1970-2000. Brenna’s research will continue on next year, as will other projects chronicling less-known stories in Bryn Mawr’s past. As I noted in my conference paper, I have reason to be hopeful for continued engagement with these new histories. Our work is indebted to the worlds of feminist and queer archiving as they have expanded and spread into institutions like the university and independent collections over the past few decades. “For a younger generation of feminists,” Kate Eichhorn writes in The Archival Turn in Feminism, “the archive is not necessarily either a destination or an impenetrable barrier to be breached, but rather a site and practice integral to knowledge making, cultural production, and activism.” Her premise can be illustrated, on a small scale, at the university and college archives where I’ve worked: our classes and programs can draw new audiences — students involved with campus organizations — who feel that we might offer a productive space in which to explore an activist and social history.

Kelly Sartorius, Deans of Women (Palgrave, December 2014)

Kelly Sartorius, Deans of Women (forthcoming from Palgrave, December 2014)

In between giving my paper Thursday and presenting at Saturday’s oral history community showcase, I was excited to grab a seat at Friday’s standing-room only panel, “Current Feminist Practices of Oral History,” featuring a comment by Sherna Berger Gluck — whose 1991 edited collection Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History is still used in women’s history classrooms. If, as Gluck contended, feminist oral history originated as a radical experiment, how are we still experimenting in our research and teaching? Kelly Sartorius, from Washington University in St. Louis, gave an important example of how oral history interviews can drive a research agenda. In her presentation “From a Life History into the Archives,” she argued for a “feminist life history approach.” Sartorius charted how she used the worldview of one narrator, University of Kansas Dean of Women Emily Taylor, to guide her work in the archives, and move away from the “waves” metaphor usually used as shorthand for mainstream feminist activism in the U.S. context. If we often talk about student protesters as the leaders in “second wave” feminist agitation on campuses, Sartorius’s research recovers the work of feminist university administrators, working with and for student activists in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Her new book, Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement: Emily Taylor’s Activism (Palgrave, December 2014) will certainly be on my winter break reading list.

University of Wisconsin students in the Historical Society Library reading room, 1904.

University of Wisconsin women students in the Historical Society Library reading room, 1904.

Before leaving town, I also had a chance to stop in to the Wisconsin Historical Society, where I followed up on my research into Catholic women’s education at the turn of the century. I found exactly what I was looking for in the library’s historical pamphlets collection, with the added bonus of finding traces of women’s education history throughout the Society’s halls. Like other midwestern “land grant” universities, the University of Wisconsin admitted women “to the full advantages of the University” in the 1860s. (Having just filed my course proposal for next semester, when I’ll be teaching histories of women’s higher education in 19th and 20th century America, I was excited to see a turn-of-the-century photo of women students at work prominently displayed next to the reference librarian’s workstations!)

Although my Madison sojourn has come to a close, readers can still view our conference discussions on Twitter with the hashtag #OHA2014. The call for proposals for next year’s meeting, “Stories of Social Change and Social Justice,” was announced in the conference’s printed program; in the meantime, the Oral History Review will be recapping other important conference conversations. Given our ongoing project to digitize Bryn Mawr oral history interviews (currently languishing on cassette tape) and support new interviews conducted by our students, there’s much more to come.

Upcoming Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, October Edition: Ada Lovelace and Women in STEM

Join the Greenfield Digital Center and Bryn Mawr College Special Collections for our second Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon!

Our first edit-a-thon this past March was a collaboration with the “Seven Sisters” colleges for women’s history month. This time around we’re riffing on the theme, with a twist for October: we will be focusing on using materials from the College archives and manuscripts collection to enhance articles on women in technology in honor of Ada Lovelace Day and American Archives Month.

New Ada

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Ada Lovelace was a female mathematician who lived from 1815-1852, and is often described as the world’s first computer programmer. Though computers as we know them today obviously did not exist in her time, Ada is credited with writing the first algorithm for a programmable machine—Charles Babbage’s “Analytical Engine,” a theoretical design that would later form the basis for the first computers built in the 1940s. In today’s male-dominated programming culture, it can come as a surprise that the first person to program a computer was a woman. However, Ada’s contribution was merely the first in a long history of innovations and advancements by women in computing that have been omitted from the dominant historical narrative of technological development. (NPR did a recent piece highlighting Ada’s work and tracing the history of women in computer programming. Listen here.) Women are discouraged from participating in technology today both by a culture that actively excludes them, and by the erasure of the long history of female involvement in and contributions to the field—an act of willful cultural ignorance that obscures potential role models from young women who are interested in pursuing work in computing. This is reflective of similar problems in the larger world of male-dominated STEM* fields. Every October, Ada Lovelace Day brings an opportunity for us to recognize the achievements of women in STEM.

Wikipedia Edit-a Thon 2014: Ada Lovelace and American Archives Month

Mary Mark Ockerbloom

Mary Mark Ockerbloom

At 4:00pm on Wednesday, October 22nd, Mary Mark Ockerbloom will join Bryn Mawr College staff, students, faculty, and members of the public in Canaday Library, Room 205 to give an instructional lecture on Wikipedia editing practices. The introduction will be followed by an editing session from 5:00 – 7:30 in which attendees can work on articles individually or in groups. The focus will be on women in STEM in the College archives, but participants are invited to bring their own projects or use the College collections to improve an article on any topic. Bring an idea, bring a friend, and bring a laptop and charger for editing. RSVP (optional but encouraged) on the Wikipedia project page or by emailing

There is absolutely no experience necessary, though it is recommended for new editors that you create an account prior to the event. Attendees may feel free to come and go as needed. Snacks will be provided.

Can’t make it in person?

Participate remotely! Work on a suggested article from this list, watch our progress and document your own on the etherpad document, and use the hashtags #BMCwiki, #ALD2014, and #ArchivesMonth!

Want to learn more about archives and the digital record? Come to our Personal Digital Archiving Day on Thursday, October 23rd—learn how to save your digital materials long-term!


Remember these?

*Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Bryn Mawr #7SistersWiki Edit-a-Thon: a Photo Story


EditingCropLast week we successfully hosted our first Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon! After holding a test run and gathering advice from many experienced Wikipedians during early 2014, we convened a group of eighteen on Tuesday evening in Bryn Mawr’s Canaday Library to learn the ins and outs of editing from Mary Mark Ockerbloom and help close the Wikipedia gender disparity in honor of Women’s History Month.

Editathon sources

Sources for editing, heavily featuring the work of Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz

Planning began months ahead of time, and in the days and weeks leading up to the event we solicited ideas for new pages and articles to improve from those who planned to attend. We then collected a variety of printed sources to aid us in editing and creating that content, lists of records from Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections that could be linked to existing articles, and web sources for reference.

2014-03-25 16.17.15

Mary introduces Wikipedia

Mary opened the event with an informative talk detailing the key Wikipedia principles and culture, and methods for basic editing. Video footage of the talk is available at the bottom of this post, and slides are available here. After the presentation, we began editing our articles. Experienced Wikipedians moved around the room assisting those who were new to editing.

IMG_3324 (2)

Katy Holladay, Leigh-Anne Yacovelli, Joelle Collins, and Mary Mark Ockerbloom editing

Outcomes of the event: the Bryn Mawr Seven Sisters Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon was attended by 18 people, including seven staff members, four Bryn Mawr students, and seven local Wikipedians. Six attendees were new to editing the site.

The content we worked on is listed on the event page: together we created five new articles, two of which are public and three of which are currently in progress. We improved twelve existing articles and uploaded eleven images to Wikimedia Commons. We also created a Commons page for Bryn Mawr, so that all of the official College images we upload to Wikipedia can be centrally gathered and marked with an “institution template” that provides information about Bryn Mawr.

The most important outcome was empowering all 18 users to better contribute to the site as a resource for all. And, of course, Kimberly Wright Cassidy is no longer without Wiki-recognition! The page is very basic right now and we encourage everyone to add information to expand, improve, and interlink the information written there.


Jeff and Elizabeth Guin from PhillyDH edit deviously

Happy editing!

Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop

book-and-mouseJune 16-22, 2014 is the Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop (#FSDW14 on Twitter), which can be found through HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory, FSDW14 is an online, interdisciplinary, participant-driven workshop for scholars/individuals working on or interested in feminist-oriented research projects. The goal of this workshop is to create an online space where participants can share and exchange ideas/scholarship/ project plans.

Any participant who works within the areas of feminist research are invited to join this discussion, including, but not limited to:

  • Gender studies
  • Queer theory
  • Cyberfeminism
  • Critical Gender/Race Studies
  • Feminist Historiography

There may also be opportunities to serve as small group leaders for interested participants.

This event is free! And it is a great opportunity for anyone with an interest, project, thesis, or dissertation working with feminist rhetorics. If you’re interested, please sign up here by Monday, May 5:


Pennsylvania Hospital History of Women’s Health Conference 2014

pages-flipThe Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia, will host its Ninth annual
History of Women’s Health Conference on Wednesday, April 2, 2014.  The
History of Women’s Health Conference focuses on areas of women’s health
from the 18th century to the present.  Robert Aronowitz, MD, chair of the
Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of
Pennsylvania, will be our keynote speaker, presenting a history of breast
cancer from his book Unnatural History: Breast Cancer and American Society
(Cambridge University Press, 2007).  He is also the author of the book
Making Sense of Illness: Science, Society, and Disease and numerous

The History of Women’s Health Conference began in 2006 as part of the
Pennsylvania Hospital’s celebration of co-founder Benjamin Franklin’s
tercentenary.  Each year since, scholars from the humanities and health
care professionals gather to discuss the past, present, and future state
of women’s health.  The conference is jointly sponsored by the Obstetrics
and Gynecology Department and the Pennsylvania Hospital Historic

We will again offer a lunch buffet for $10.  Lunch will take place in the
historic Pine Building.  Please send a check payable to the Pennsylvania
Hospital Historic Collections to: Pennsylvania Hospital Historic
Collections c/o Stacey Peeples, 3 Pine East Rm. 2, 800 Spruce St.,
Philadelphia, PA 19107.

Please RSVP by March 30, 2014 to Stacey C Peeples, Curator-Lead Archivist,
Pennsylvania Hospital:
When registering, please indicate if you would like to purchase the $10
lunch. Vegetarian option will be available.
Please call (215-829-5434) or e-mail with any questions or for more


2014 History of Women’s Health Conference Program:
Zubrow Auditorium, 800 Spruce St., Philadelphia

Keynote: 7:30-8:30am
Robert Aronowitz, M.D., Professor & Chair, History and Sociology of Science,
University of Pennsylvania
“Do not delay”: early detection campaigns before mammography

Session One: 9am-9:50am
Karol K. Weaver, Associate Professor of History/Women’s Studies,
Susquehanna University
“That Awful Business”: Female Death Workers in Nineteenth-Century

Carol-Ann Farkas, PhD, Associate Professor of English
MCPHS University
Constructing the “Lady Doctor”: Femininity and Female Professionalization
in the Popular Press of the Late Nineteenth-Century

Session Two: 10am-11am
Gina M. Greene, Ph.D. , Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society
University of Pennsylvania
Architecture in Utero: From Maternity Ward to Maternal Environment at the
Prentice Women’s Hospital (1975-1985)

Jodi Vandenberg-Daves, Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
and History, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
“The Maternal Body in U.S. History:  Discipline, Fragmentation, and the
Potential for Empowerment”

Susan E. Klepp, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of History, Temple University
“The Pregnant Revolution: Women and Fertility in the New Nation”

Session Three: 11:10am-12pm
Carrie Adkins, Ph.D., Instructor, University of Oregon
This Is Catharine Macfarlane’s Life: Gender and Power in Twentieth-Century
American Medicine

Mary M. Mahoney, Ph.D. Student in History, University of Connecticut
“Taking a Literary Pulse: Ruth Tews and the Mystery of Bibliotherapy.”

***LUNCH*** 12:10-1:15pm

Session Four: 1:20-2:10pm
Kelly O’Reilly, Ph.D.  Student in History, Vanderbilt University
“Doctor-less” Birth Control: Bringing Birth Control to California’s
Migrant Workers, 1939-1942

Jennifer Fraser, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Toronto
“From Nuns to Natives”: The Postcolonial History of the Cytopipette,”


Pennsylvania Hospital is an approved provider of continuing nursing
education by the PA State Nurses Association, an accredited approver by
the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on accreditation.

There is no conflict of interest on the part of any presenter. There is no
commercial support for this educational offering.  4.5 Nursing contact
hours will be awarded to nurses attending this program in its entirety and
submitting an evaluation for the program.

Writing the Collective Record: on Delving into Wikipedia


Bryn Mawr Special Collections is jumping on the edit-a-thon bandwagon!

Staff members participating in the edit-a-thon, January 10th 2013

Staff members participating in the edit-a-thon, January 10th 2013

This past Friday, we held a small trial run Wikipedia edit-a-thon: a gathering at which people work on adding to or editing articles on the encyclopedia website, often organized around a specific topic. The goal of the endeavor is multifaceted: we want to add information pertinent to our collections in order to increase awareness of our holdings; to improve general knowledge by enhancing existing articles with additional information; and to add to the global body of accessible knowledge on women and women’s history. I have begun writing a new article for Hilda Worthington Smith (not yet posted), a Bryn Mawr alumna who played a lead role in The Summer School for Women Workers in Industry in the 1920s and ’30s. Other colleagues added new articles, improved existing articles by adding links to our holdings, and interlinked between articles. This initial trial helped us to to gauge the challenges, feasibility, and possible benefits of holding similar events in the future with a broader group of participants.


Courtesy of

Why Wikipedia? Surely there are other channels by which we might accomplish these goals–channels that are more reputable, or more specialized. Our alumnae, for instance, would be more likely to read about highlights from our collections through the Alumnae Bulletin, researchers can find us through networks of finding aids and citations, and anybody with an internet connection can browse the Triptych and Triarte databases to view the art objects, images, and documents that we hold. But the draw of Wikipedia isn’t specialization–it’s precisely the opposite.

With the abundance of information available on the internet growing every second, people are relying increasingly on powerful aggregators like Google and sites like Wikipedia which provide a centralized source for general knowledge. This is valuable and useful, but also cause for concern. As the amount of information covered by these tools grows, they take on the illusion of completeness. The phenomenon is summed up aptly by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales with the “Google test: ‘If it isn’t on Google, it doesn’t exist.'” (If a tree falls in a forest…) If it doesn’t exist on Wikipedia, the public perception is that it must not be very important.

Professors are notoriously uneasy with their students’ reliance on Wikipedia, and have been known to decry its democratic structure as a free-for-all for self-appointed journalists spreading unreliable information. While the concern may be overblown (the site actually has strict rules about citation and regularly cleans out content of poor quality), it is true that Wikipedia is only as reliable as those who participate in writing and editing it. Like all sources, its assertions should be interrogated rather than blindly accepted. The legitimate fear is not that it is fallible, but that its readers will forget that it is so. Once we recognize it as an incomplete, WikiGlobesoccasionally inaccurate, and highly mutable record, the conversation becomes much more interesting. If it is not a record of “everything,” what is it a record of? The diagram on the right is my interpretation of what it looks like to begin to refine our understanding of Wikipedia’s relation to wider cultural knowledge. I have never spoken to a person who actually believes the statement in stage 1, but my perception is that many people are stuck at stages 3 and 4. Versions of the statement in stage 5 have recently emerged at the center of dialogue in feminist and digital communities about the role that Wikipedia plays in our cultural knowledge, the assertion among feminists being that it both reinforces systemic problems and also provides opportunities for reform, which it becomes our responsibility to take.

While Bryn Mawr Special Collections will use the site to provide better access to our collections in general, the edit-a-thons also align particularly with the mission of The Greenfield Digital Center to build recognition of women in digital spaces. It is important to ensure that women and minority voices have a presence on Wikipedia, simply because it is so many people’s main reference for information–otherwise we risk losing sight of them entirely. Last Fall, our former Director Jennifer Redmond led a history class through the process of improving the Wikipedia article for M. Carey Thomas, demonstrating the incompleteness of what some view as the “official” record and the importance of taking the steps we can to fill in the gaps.


Filipacchio’s New York Times Op-Ed

The volume of the conversation around gender in Wikipedia rose to a new pitch in April 2013 when Amanda Filipacchi noticed a disturbing trend: Wikipedia editors were gradually moving women from the general “American Novelists” listing to a marginal sub-category called “American Women Novelists,” leaving the original list, with name still ungendered, exclusively male. This observation raised crucial questions about the visibility of marginalized groups and the responsibility of editors and others to consciously address these problems. Her article, and the flood of ensuing coverage, brought new focus to a conversation about the under-representation of women on the site–both as subjects of content and in their roles as contributors. (A useful summary of the conversation can be found here.) The dialogue became an opportunity to reflect on the systemic nature of sexism, and the insidious feedback loop between structural problems in society and sources like Wikipedia: culture reinforces its imbalances by creating a record that reflects them, replicating the existing flaws like mutated DNA as it constantly remakes itself in the image of the problematic record. In other words, rather than a record of the world itself, Wikipedia serves as a mirror of our worldview with the power to either perpetuate or transform the problems it contains.

Courtesy of Postcolonial Digital Humanities,

Courtesy of Postcolonial Digital Humanities,

The Importance of Participation: the best way to fix it is to get our feet wet and address the matter at the source of the controversy, and organized efforts like The Rewriting Wikipedia Project are taking the reigns. The under-representation of women, gender non-conforming individuals, people of color, and others on Wikipedia is a site-specific manifestation of a universal problem. By adding to and editing Wikipedia, therefore, we address two areas in need of change: we fill in the gaps that exist between the site and our culture, adding in those who have been left out of the encyclopedia but have achieved recognition by society outside the digital realm. (Examples include the women mentioned in this article who have won prestigious STEM awards but go unrecognized on Wikipedia). Additionally, in adding in those who have been neglected either on the site or in general society, we take steps towards correcting those lacks in the culture itself, from beyond and before Wikipedia: we reassert the importance and visibility of the marginalized, affirming their place in history and their right to be known. Because of its open structure, Wikipedia is more than just a mirror of the status quo: it is also a potential locus of powerful change.

Therefore, edit! Setting up a Wikipedia account is easy. Learning the editing protocol is a little bit more of an investment, but can be easily covered within an hour. By taking an organized approach to adding information into the site we can support each other as we learn how to edit, ask questions about material and learn about the collections, and make a difference in the visibility of Bryn Mawr’s remarkable collections and of women’s accomplishments in history. Edit-a-thons have been picking up all over the world, with growing frequency in past years, and we plan on holding another one in March to coincide with a Seven Sisters series of edit-a-thons for Women’s History Month. In the meantime, we will be publicizing and participating in events like the upcoming Art and Feminism edit-a-thon* on Saturday, February 1st, in order to continue to get our feet wet and learn the ins and outs of the site.

If you’re interested in getting involved with a future event, please write to us at and follow us on Twitter! @GreenfieldHWE

*Update: remote participants are more than welcome at edit-a-thons, but if you’re in a major city chances are good that you could participate in the Art and Feminism edit-a-thon in person. More fun and usually free food! Check this page for a full listing of participating organizations to see if there is someone hosting a gathering near you.

Call for Papers: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture and Social Justice

call-for-papersCall for Abstracts and Expressions of Interest for a Special Thematic Cluster of Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture and Social Justice

Belaboured Introductions: Critical Reflections on the Introductory Course in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Co-editors: Melissa Autumn White, Rachel Alpha Johnston Hurst and Jennifer Musial

Criticism is an act of love, and like writing it is the response to what has come before, to what is coming into being even now.
–Paul Bové, reflecting on Edward Said.

The Hugo Schwyzer scandal has reignited longstanding debates within and beyond the interdisciplinary field of women’s, gender and sexuality studies (WGSS), centering on questions like the one posed by Tara Conley on the international email discussion forum WMST-L: “What qualifies one to teach topics related to women’s studies at the undergrad level?”, and in Colleen Flaherty’s journalistic coverage of the WMST-L debate for Inside Higher Ed, “Who Should Teach Women’s Studies?” (August 21, 2013). But more than questions of qualification, credentials and professional identity, the discussions that have emerged from the Schwyzer dust-up rather predictably call into question the institutional grounds and ambitions of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. We contend that this is a crucial moment in which to redirect these discussions through a focused analysis of, and reflection on, the status of the introductory course as a vital institutional object and generative remainder in this interdisciplinary field. We therefore invite extended abstracts and expressions of interest for papers that critically engage the pedagogy, aspirations and economies of “WGSS 101.”

This special thematic cluster aims to open critical space for reflection on the epistemological, material, and institutional frameworks that differentially enable and/or constrain the introductory course; the conscious and unconscious desires at play in the work of crafting and teaching the introductory course; approaches to intersectionality, interdisciplinarity, transnationalism, decolonization, indigenization in the introductory course; and the stories and genealogies of the field crafted through specific introductory syllabi and assignments.

We are especially interested in papers that engage with (but are not limited to) the following questions:

– How/Is it possible to maintain a feminist, anti-racist, learner-centered pedagogy in a large enrollment introductory class? How might programs and/or departments move toward more intimate classes within fiscal and administrative contexts that threaten the survival and vitality of WGSS and other “pedagogies of minority difference” (Ferguson 2012)?

– What do we want our courses to do in the university and beyond? More specifically, what do we want our courses to do in the lives of our students? What political and psychic aspirations, investments, and affective economies come into play in the development of critical WGSS pedagogy? What is the place of the introductory course in those circulations and movements of desire?

– What role does the introductory course play in crafting stories and genealogies of the field? What stories do we tell ourselves, our curriculum committees, our Deans, and our students about the place and aims of the introductory course in and beyond the university? How do we get stuck in the stories we stick by about WGSS, and with what effect (cf. Hemmings 2011, Wiegman 2012)?

– (How) does the still relatively uncommon Ph.D. in gender, women’s, and sexuality studies shape the introductory course? What are the outcomes and issues in hiring someone with/out a Ph.D. in WGSS to teach the introductory course? How/does granting tenure in WGSS affect curriculum and program development, particularly as it relates to a sustainable, compelling and rigorous introductory course?

– What are the labor politics—racialized, sexualized, gendered, material, affective—of the introductory course? Who teaches the introductory course and why? What, if any, is the relationship between introductory enrollments, departmental budgets, and tenure lines? What role does the labour of the introductory course play in the vitality of institutional, intellectual and mentoring cultures in WGSS?

– How are austerity discourses and university budget cuts impacting the introductory WGSS course as a particular mode of social labor? What are the strategic and/or troubling implications of ascribing value to the introductory course institutionally by articulating it as meeting “social justice”, “sustainability”, “global citizenship”, “civic engagement”, and “diversity learning” outcomes? Might and should the introductory course change to suit emerging educational markets?

– What archives of knowledge are entrenched and/or challenged by the labor of the introductory course? To what extent do/should the analytic categories of “gender,” “women,” and “sexuality” remain central in the introductory course given the racialized spatial politics that transnational, decolonizing and indigenizing feminist approaches emphasize, along with the destabilizations of “the categories themselves” (Valentine 2004) through queer and trans- studies?

– Paying attention to the role of eros and desire in teaching and learning, what does it mean when students are “transformed” by the introductory class and in the process displace those feelings onto the (sexualized) professor? How do WGSS faculty and instructors navigate the fine line between “being charismatic” and “developing a following”? What is the role of seduction in critical pedagogy, especially in programs whose survival depends on cultivating majors and minors (cf. Takacs and Chambliss, 2014)?

We invite essays, reflections, interventions, strategic documents, and/or archives of institutional development, written by well-known WGSS scholars and commentators, new instructors of the introductory course, those who serve on curriculum and/or steering committees, chairs of WGSS programs, inter/disciplinarily-trained professors, those who could teach the class but avoid it, those (precariously) assigned to teach the course on a semester’s notice, and those who hold Ph.D.’s in the field and/or have served a role in developing the Ph.D. program.

At this time, the special thematic cluster editors invite expressions of interest, in the form of an extended abstract of 500-750 words, detailing central questions and modes of inquiry by December 15, 2013 to Please include a 100 – 150 word bio with affiliation.

Full paper submissions will open in March 2014 and close in June 2014 with a formal announcement on the Atlantis website: Following a full peer-review process, the special thematic cluster will appear in Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture and Social Justice in December 2014.

Please contact the co-editors with any

Co-editors’ Biographies

Melissa Autumn White is an Assistant Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of British Columbia, where the introductory course, “Gender, Race, Sexuality and Power,” is taught in two parts at the Okanagan campus, enrolling 200 and 60 students respectively. Under the working title “Ambivalent Belongings: Affective Governance and the Politics of Queer Migration in an Age of Global Apartheid,” her first book examines how queer migration and asylum politics dis/engage with the nation-state as a primary site of identification.

Rachel Alpha Johnston Hurst is an Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at St. Francis Xavier University. Her introductory class enrolls 55 students, and in 2014-15 will become a part of the StFX Social Justice Colloquium ( Her book manuscript, “Surface Imaginations: Cosmetic Surgery, Photography, and Skin” is presently under review, and she is co-editor of Skin, Culture, and Psychoanalysis with Angela Failler and Sheila Cavanagh (Palgrave 2013). Currently she is working on a decolonizing re-reading of colonial photographs in North America.

Jennifer Musial is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies at Dickinson College, where she teaches “Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies” in a small class environment. Before arriving at Dickinson, she was at Northern Arizona University where she offered the introductory course, “Women, Gender Identity, and Ethnicity” to 105 students each semester. Her research centers on reproductive citizenship, grievability, and gendered racialization, and her first book, “Pregnant Pause: Reproduction, Death, and Media Culture,” is in progress. Her Ph.D. in Women’s Studies is from York University (Toronto).

(PDF of call for abstracts can be downloaded at: Please share!)