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Advancing the study of women and gender

Advancing the study of women and gender

National journal, state conference keep Binghamton on ‘cutting edge’

In 1974, in the midst of the women’s movement, Binghamton University became home to one of the country’s first PhD programs in women’s history. Nearly four decades later, Binghamton has emerged as a top institution for the study of women, and its commitment to the field continues to expand.

Home to the Journal of Women’s History and recent host of the 2012 Upstate New York Women’s History Organization conference, Binghamton University has gained an international reputation for the study of women, and its scholars have acquired a voice that continues to play a part in molding society’s view of women and their history.

“In the social sciences and humanities especially, the study of women and gender has been one of the most significant developments in scholarship broadly over the course of the last 25 or 30 years and … it has truly transformed the way we understand history, literature, culture, philosophy, art and film,” says Provost Donald Nieman, former dean of Harpur College. “Because of Harpur College’s strength in the social sciences and the humanities, it’s appropriate that we’re at the forefront of the study of women and gender. It really puts us on the cutting edge and helps us offer students a challenging, intellectually stimulating and contemporary liberal arts education.”

Journal of Women’s History

Leigh Ann Wheeler, co-editor of the Journal of Women’s History and associate professor of history at Binghamton University, says a fundamental misunderstanding exists in society about what exactly women’s history is.

“It’s not just about women’s suffrage and it’s not just about first ladies. I mean they’re relevant, they play a role, but that’s not what we do,” Wheeler says. “I think what makes women’s history so transformative and important is that women’s historians have taken the stories of people from the past who were considered insignificant and unimportant and irrelevant and shown how their lives — how developments that they contributed to, that they were affected by — matter historically.”

Wheeler and her colleagues at the Journal strive, in part, to do just that. Known as “the premier journal in the international field of women’s history,” the Journal of Women’s History arrived at Binghamton University in spring 2010. Wheeler had noticed the Journal’s call for a new editorial host shortly after accepting a job at Binghamton. She contacted the head of the search committee responsible for hiring her, History Professor Jean Quataert, to see if anyone at the University would be interested in applying. A pioneer in the study of German women’s history, Quataert responded with interest, and a partnership was formed.

“We didn’t know one another, we had never worked together and the phenomenal way in which we work [together] — we’re both committed, we both work hard, we both take full responsibility. We are … almost like one gear,” Quataert says.

Along with Sociology Associate Professor Benita Roth and History Associate Professor Elisa Camiscioli, Wheeler and Quataert spent nearly a year working on a proposal. The proposal was selected from a group submitted by scholars at several universities, and they are now co-editors of the Journal, set to remain at Binghamton until 2015. Camiscioli serves as book review editor and Roth as associate editor. The Journal also employs two graduate assistants who act as half-time managing editors and take care of what Wheeler calls “all the day-to-day practical tasks.”

One of their biggest “umbrella” visions, according to Wheeler, has been to publish works with broader significance, of interest even to people outside the field of women’s history.

In doing this, Quataert adds, the Journal not only reflects existing scholarship in the study of women and offers authors in the field a place to come together and share their work, but it also “pushes the field in new directions.”

“I think women’s history has been at the forefront of some of the major changes in the discipline of history in general,” Quataert says. “It has been massively challenging in its origins, challenging what was regarded as the ways of doing history, so it had an absolutely major impact.”

Founded in 1989, the Journal has played a significant role in influencing that impact, and Wheeler considers that one of its greatest benefits.

“The Journal shapes women’s history scholarship because we decide what gets into print and what is considered credible and what’s not,” Wheeler says. “That’s one of the exciting things about editing the Journal.”

The Journal is also an asset to the History Department’s PhD program, helping to attract top students and giving them high-level exposure to the world of academic publishing.

They get to see what publishing is like,” Wheeler says of the graduate assistants who work on the Journal. “How the whole process works, and I think that’s invaluable. I know that when the people who have served as our managing editors go out and start submitting their own work for publication, they’re going to be so far ahead of the game because they see how it works, they know what’s expected.”

Managing editor Giusi Russo is grateful for the opportunity.

“As a graduate student in women’s history, I have a political commitment to women’s history or to feminism in general, so I’m happy to work with this institution,” Russo says. “It’s one of the most prestigious journals in women’s history.”

Wheeler says that the Journal’s stay at Binghamton University further attracts strong students to an already strong graduate program. Quataert adds that it’s this kind of reputation and “the University’s old, fine, excellent tradition of hiring excellent colleagues at the cutting-edge of research,” that make the Journal a great fit at Binghamton University.

Leslie Heywood and Gender Studies

English Professor Leslie Heywood understands firsthand the significance of strong women’s history and women’s studies programs. As a member of the first generation of females in sports after the passage of Title IX, Heywood says she was forced to deal with an athletic culture that was still skeptical of female participation.

“The shocked response from coaches and male athletes that ‘you’re pretty strong/fast for a girl’ when I could run a mile under five minutes or bench press over 200 pounds sent the message that they believed girls and women had less value, competence and were lesser beings overall,” Heywood says.

While Heywood didn’t buy into the message, she was surrounded by it, and it wasn’t until she got to college that she could start to make sense of it.

“When I was first exposed to sociological and literary explorations of these kinds of cultural assumptions and behavior patterns in college, it gave me a way to understand those formative experiences and to question them, and work toward revising them,” Heywood says.

Today, Heywood works in both gender studies and the study of females in sports, and has authored books such as Pretty Good for a Girl and Built to Win: The Rise of the Female Athlete as Cultural Icon.

“I think gender and women’s studies, along with public policy instruments like Title IX, have literally changed girls’ and women’s lives so that today assumptions about achievement and value are sometimes very different,” Heywood says. “I think Binghamton has historically been very proactive in promoting an atmosphere of respect and equality across the spectrum of race, gender, sexuality, class and other variables, and in supporting programs that examine these issues in complicated ways.”

Thomas Dublin and the Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender

Another way Binghamton University supports the study of women is through the Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender, co-directed by Kathryn Kish Sklar and Thomas Dublin, both SUNY distinguished professors. According to Dublin, the purpose of the center is to “stimulate exchange” across different divides, such as U.S. women’s history and European women’s history, and to provide a focus that allows people with shared interest to communicate with each other.

Although history is among the most traditional disciplines, much of the communication promoted by the center has occurred via the World Wide Web. Beginning in the late 1990s — when the Web was in its infancy — Dublin and Sklar began to create large, Web-based documentary collections focusing on the role of women in social movements in the United States. With the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the project blossomed into Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600–2000, a pioneering website that includes 90 projects featuring complete texts of 2,800 documents. The collection is not only a boon to students and scholars, it has revolutionized historical scholarship.

“The Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender was a recognition that within our teaching program we had a lot of interests that were broader than any one field and that it would be good to try to found a research center that might allow people to get together and talk with one another, perhaps sponsor research activities that would be in common,” Dublin says.

Dublin came to Binghamton in 1988, and his decision was greatly influenced by the University’s already strong reputation in the study of women.

“People kind of looked to Binghamton,” he says. “I think faculty would recommend to their undergraduates that they might apply to Binghamton to study women’s history, and the women’s history [applicant] pool was very strong always and it was much more national than was true in all the fields of history … so that we would get people coming from California or from Oregon or from Florida to study in our program, they’d heard enough about it.”

Dublin says the large applicant pool allowed the program to grow even stronger, as it permitted the University to become even more selective, and the benefits have been widespread.

“I think it has very much contributed to a strong History Department to have a strong women’s history subfield,” Dublin says.

2012 UNYWHO Conference at Binghamton University

In April 2012, the Upstate New York Women’s History Organization (UNYWHO) conference came to Binghamton University for the first time. Sponsored by the Journal of Women’s History, the conference welcomed women’s history scholars and graduate students from across the Northeast and included panels on eight different topics.

Wheeler says Binghamton’s ideal location, which made it possible for the University to host the conference, was one of the reasons it was a great fit for the Journal.

 

“The Journal had always been in the Midwest. I like the idea of bringing it to the East Coast, where there’s just a higher concentration of universities and colleges and archives and women’s historians in the northeast,” Wheeler says. “I just think we have more of a concentration of people to draw from and we can use the Journal to fuel community building.”

Nancy Applebaum, associate professor of history and chair of the History Department, lauds the UNYWHO conference for the kind of opportunities it brought to the Binghamton campus.

“The conference brings together scholars and graduate students from around the region and really helps them forge professional connections [and] learn about each other’s research,” Appelbaum says. “It gives graduate students in particular … a really wonderful opportunity to interact with leading senior scholars in the field as they develop their dissertations.”

Appelbaum also says that the conference aided in shining a spotlight on the University’s strength in women’s history.

“I think [it] helps to … showcase that Binghamton University has one of the top programs in women’s history in the country,” she says.

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Last Updated: 12/10/14