It’s been a while since my last post. I could explain the gap by writing about busy schedules, but that is not unique to me. I have been busy, with work, with research, with family and friends, but none of those is an impediment.
So instead, I want to write about the joys of celebrating milestones. It’s a festive time of year in academia. I treasure the chances we have to honor our students and to wish them well on the next steps they will take. It is a privilege to play a part in their intellectual and personal development.
Immediately following the two graduations at Arcadia University, I headed off to my college reunion at Mount Holyoke College. I am so grateful to have gone there and for the role the college, my professors, and my friends played in helping me become the feminist scholar and leader I am today.
A centerpiece of the reunion overlaps with graduation — the Laurel Chain ceremony, which dates back to the early twentieth century. The graduating class carries a massive chain woven of laurel leaves, walking through the ranks of alumnae who have come back to campus, connecting the generations. They then place the chain on the fence surrounding the grave of Mary Lyon, who founded Mount Holyoke in 1837. My class, many years ago now, sang the song “Bread and Roses” as part of this ceremony– the next year’s graduates sang it too, and it became a tradition carried through the years. To me, that is Mount Holyoke, embracing both tradition and change. The song tells us “The rising of the women means the rising of the race” and “it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!”
Today, I reflect on and rejoice in the connections across time and the celebrations of achievement.
This summer afforded me the chance to visit Chicago to present a paper at the International Standing Conference for the History of Education conference, held in August. In addition to participating in the conference, I was able to visit Hull House (pictured right) and marvel again at the career, work, and influence of Jane Addams, whose life I have admired since I read a biography of her in third grade (a long time ago!). I also made a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago and enjoyed seeing their fabulous collection of post-Impressionists and many other paintings.
My research colleague Stephanie Spencer and I presented a paper entitled “Writing of the Body: gendering sickness and health in schoolgirl novels” that drew on the sources we are using for our project examining how books written for teen audiences serve as sources of informal education in gendered ideals. In this paper, we used the Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer as well as books from the Marjorie Dean series by Pauline Lester and the Grace Harlowe series by Jesse Graham Flower.
It has been a busy summer, with some travel for pleasure punctuated by a conference and work. Academic deans work through the year, and summer provides a chance to catch up and do some planning. There are budgets to be worked through and structural matters to be addressed – it’s not all glamorous! But I enjoy my work and hope it makes a difference in the experiences of our students.
I had the pleasure of being on the organizing committee of the Consuming/Culture: women and girls in print and pixels conference, held in early June at Oxford Brookes University. The picture shows me at our opening session. We had nearly a hundred presenters and it was so gratifying to see all the hard work put in by our team – Hannah Yellin, Elizabeth Lovegrove, Leander Reeves, and Jane Potter – result in a successful conference. The papers addressed both historical and contemporary topics and were uniformly well done. This conference grew out of two previous ones on women and magazines (broadly conceived) and I hope that another conference will continue the flow of ideas and discussion.
I was able to spend time traveling with my mother, who turns ninety-two in a few days, seeing English gardens and other sights. We enjoyed our visits to several gardens, including my favorite of all, Sissinghurst Castle Garden. I am struck by the combinations of colors, the freshness of the flowers, and the peaceful feeling one finds in the gardens. Our trip also enabled us to visit with friends, an always welcome joy.
In addition, thanks to the wonders of technology, my research colleague and I worked on revisions to an article and plans for a conference paper. We continue to work on the Transnational Femininities project, looking at books that are set in schools and colleges, written for teenage girls in the first half of the twentieth century. I am also working on a second project that examines Co-ed magazine, a periodical produced in conjunction with home economics classes, with the interesting tag line: ‘The Magazine for Career Girls and Homemakers of Tomorrow’. I am intrigued by both facets of its announced mission.
As summer rolls along all too quickly, I am grateful for the slightly slower pace, the chance to travel, and the opportunity to think and write.
I had the pleasure of doing a guest lecture in Dr. Ana Maria Garcia’s Gender in America class (at Arcadia University) this week. It was a delight to be in the classroom with inquisitive students, who asked some insightful questions and even went along with doing some physical activity during the session.
In a talk called “Doing research in women’s history — so what?”: Connections between American Women’s Athletic Activities and Their Health, I discussed my research about the ways historians use texts and illustrations drawn from popular culture to consider their educative function. Articles and advertisements that appeared in American periodicals as well as other publications at the turn of the century catalogued the advantages of women’s athletic activity and its relationship to their health.
Popular culture sources provided an important means of informal education for their readers. They suggested that women would improve their health through physical exertion and could look forward to better posture and respiration as well as increased strength and endurance. Athletic activity could also lead to an improved complexion and a pleasant appearance. Moreover, advocates of sports for women also noted the potential benefits to society, couching their approbation in the language of race preservation. Finally, many writers reassured their audience that physical exertion provided an important balance for mental activity, frequently citing the athletic programs at women’s colleges as proof of the viability of symmetrical development. The authors of works that appeared in the popular press, unlike some writers in the medical literature, generally painted a positive image of the effects of physical activities for women, though some counseled moderation. Even some advertisements for clothing noted the relationship between appropriate attire and healthful activity for women. I argue that these sources suggested that women’s athletic activity had multiple benefits for their health and played an important role in the construction of the ideal of the new athletic woman.
This lecture was drawn from my larger project “‘The Winning Girl’: The New Athletic Woman in American Popular Culture, 1880 – 1920,” which explores the role played by women’s athletic activity in the transformation of gender roles to determine the connections between the construction of gender and written descriptions and illustrations of athletic women.
I attended a very interesting lecture yesterday given by Dr. Laurence Scott, of the Arcadia London Centre, about study abroad in the digital age. Dr. Scott made a number of key points, such as the contrast between “here” and “there” being all but erased, as we can take here with us to there. He also noted that the many ways we can interact digitally have created a fourth dimension.
For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the talk was the notion that we curate ourselves in digital space, but are also curated by others, as we are, for example, tagged and retweeted. I was also struck by the multiplicity of identities one can simultaneously have in this fourth dimension. In the space of the ten minutes running up to Dr. Scott’s lecture, I acted as an administrator, a friend, a daughter, a scholar, and a colleague – on multiple digital platforms, including email, Twitter, and Facebook.
The connections that are possible in this digital age simultaneously link and separate us. We can acquire news and information almost instantly. And it can seem as if we are there, because of the proximity and rapidity of others – but we are still here and they are there, yet everywhere. For those who study and travel abroad, the sense of being connected is a comfort, but the experience is mediated and made different because of those connections. The connections enable us to process experiences differently, as we decide what to present in which digital medium, and challenge us to engage with the present in the moment.
My university has a wonderful program that allows our first-year students to spend spring break on cultural study trips abroad. This year, Arcadia University will send nearly 400 students on seventeen courses in fifteen countries. The students have been preparing for their trips over the course of the semester. When they return, their experience will culminate with presentations at the Global Expo.
I am fortunate enough to be traveling with a wonderful colleague and nineteen excited students. We will spend our week exploring British popular culture in London. The themes we are studying include the role of sport in popular culture, the role of history, advertising, music, and everyday life. Among the sites we will visit are the Olympic Park, the Museum of Brands, the home of Chelsea Football Club, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Harry Potter Studio Tour. I am excited to spend the week helping my students experience a place I love.
The autumn conference season is well underway. Last month, I presented a paper entitled “‘You and Your Career’: Careers Advice in Co-ed Magazine, 1956- 1965” at the Gender, Race, and Representation in Magazines and New Media Conference held at Cornell University. This conference followed on from the Women in Magazines Conference that took place in London in June 2012. My paper focused on the magazine’s first decade, using the “You and Your Career” column in order to consider changes and continuities in careers presented in the pages of Co-ed. It also considered other career-related pieces that appeared elsewhere in the magazine. The paper examined how various careers were represented as well as what advice was given about how to train for particular careers.
I was fortunate to be able to present a seminar for the Centre for the History of Women’s Education at the University of Winchester in November. Our evening spent considering “Co-ed Magazine: A Source of Informal Education for 1950s American Teenagers,” was filled with fruitful discussion and convivial conversation, especially as we were able to examine copies of some issues of the magazine.
Next up is a trip to Exeter, United Kingdom for the UK History of Education Society annual meeting. At that conference, my research colleague Stephanie Spencer and I will present “Professionalism in the Ranks: Learning about Teaching and School Leadership in British and American Schoolgirl Stories.” We are using a British and an American series of schoolgirl stories to consider these works as sources of informal education for their readers about what teaching might be like as a career. In this paper, we highlight how authors detailed the characteristics associated with successful and not so successful teachers within schoolgirl fiction, focusing on the Chalet School books written by Eleanor Brent-Dyer and the Grace Harlowe high school series written by Jessie Graham Flower.