Summer Musings

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.

print-pixel1I 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.

sissinghurst-july15I 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.

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“Doing research in women’s history — so what?”

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.

AU1Popular 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.




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Here and there in the Digital Age

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.

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Travel with students

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.

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A Flurry of Conferences and Presentations

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 March 1961-coverUniversity.  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.

GraceCoverNext 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.

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Reflections on Mary Lyon and Mountain Day

MHC-MountainDayI spent this past weekend at Mount Holyoke College, my alma mater, at an Alumnae Association workshop.  Walking around the campus, I was struck,  as always, by its beauty and by how fortunate I had been to be able to attend this extraordinary college.  Founded by the redoubtable Mary Lyon in 1837, Mount Holyoke has always provided the opportunity for women to pursue higher education, often when social and economic conditions were not favorable.  Mary Lyon willed Mount Holyoke into being, raising funds to open her female seminary, designing the curriculum, and hiring the faculty.  She insisted that students walk for an extended period every day, to maintain good health, and that they share responsibility for some of the domestic duties.  The institution thrived and remains one of the leaders in higher education for women; it is a beacon in that landscape.


This morning, I received an email from the Alumnae Association, declaring that it was Mountain Day.  Although I am many years removed from my undergraduate days, those two words still carry a thrill.  On Mountain Day, the college chapel’s bells ring and ring, proclaiming the day, on which all academic activities are suspended and the college community is encouraged to enjoy a day out of doors.  Many students walk to nearby Mt. Holyoke and climb to its summit.  Mountain Day offers a chance to pause and to reflect.  Although I won’t be climbing any mountains today, I will still take a moment to reflect on my good fortune and on women like Mary Lyon who have made history.

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Midsummer musings

As the summer races by more quickly than I’d like, I’ve been working on three projects.  The first is reading the six books in the Grace Harlowe overseas series, in which the lead character and her friends serve in various volunteer capacities in France during WW1.  This reading is in preparation for writing the abstract, then the paper, for next summer’s International Standing Conference in the History of Education, which has the theme of ‘Education, War and Peace’. It has been fascinating to read about very familiar characters placed in equally unfamiliar settings. I am also reading through multiple issues of Co-ed magazine, which began publication in the 1950s and was designed to be of interest to ‘Career Girls and Homemakers of Tomorrow.’  There are several projects involving this magazine afoot.  Finally, I am writing a new chapter for my manuscript about images of athletic American women in late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  I also need to rewrite the introduction, in light of many recent sporting events, and send it on for review.

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