HIST 5803F: Women, Gender, and Sexuality History:  Foundations
Fall 2021

photo of parents and children walking with signs in front of a school

Mothers and children demand the re-opening of schools, Ottawa June 2021

Instructor: Professor Susan Whitney

Women have been hit hardest by the global Covid-19 pandemic, with racialized women often facing particularly difficult challenges. Women’s employment rates have dropped more sharply than men’s in countries such as Canada and the U.S., while Canadian researchers report sharp increases in the use of mental health services by mothers of young children. In Ontario, mothers protest the government’s refusal to re-open schools alongside their children. This course provides historical perspective on this and other challenges facing women today.

Course description: The course introduces students to major developments in the academic study of the history of women, gender, and sexuality through seminar discussions, written work, and meetings with Professor Whitney. It also provides students the opportunity to investigate the personal and scholarly trajectory of a leading historian of women, gender, and/or sexuality of their choice. Transnational in conception, the course mixes focused attention to important themes, issues, and historical problems in women’s, gender and sexuality history with chronological movement through time as it examines historiography. Weekly assigned readings illustrate how historians of women and gender have framed historical problems and introduce students to the main theoretical and methodological approaches they have employed.  Special attention will be paid to the topics, debates, and scholarly discussions that have defined the field and set the scholarly agenda – as well as to how these have shifted over time. The course underlines the constantly evolving nature of historical scholarship.

Although the readings for Fall 2021 have not yet been finalized, topics to be considered likely include: the intellectual and political stakes of early women’s history; gender history and its critics; critical historical perspectives on race; women and work; sexuality history; masculinities; feminist history as transnational undertaking; the relationship between women, empire, and post-colonial realities; women and science; and age, gender, race, and class as intersecting categories of analysis. Students will reflect on the relevance of historical writing for our twenty-first century world and learn about the research that students previously in the course completed for their M.A. theses and major research essays. During the Fall 2020 semester, HIST 5803 students were pleased by how seminar discussions and assigned readings complemented those in HIST 5000.

Course format and mode of delivery: At this point in early June, Professor Whitney hopes to offer this class as an in-person graduate seminar. (FYI Our assigned classroom is big enough to allow for social distancing and equipped with moveable tables and chairs). If public health directives make this either impossible or inadvisable, the course will be offered over Zoom, as it was last year. Regardless of the precise format, Professor Whitney is committed to making this course succeed as a discussion-based graduate seminar.  Weekly assigned readings typically include 4-5 scholarly articles or a scholarly monograph. Joan Wallach Scott’s The Politics of the Veil (Princeton, 2007) and Joan Sangster’s One Hundred Years of Struggle: The History of the Vote in Canada (UBC, 2018) will likely be included in the course readings.  All readings will be available electronically through Carleton’s electronic reserve system.

Course assignments and evaluation: Students will be expected to participate in an informed and active manner during weekly seminar discussions and to complete up to two short critical reading responses, a proposal and annotated bibliography, and a 10-12pp paper, due at the end of the term. This paper will explore the work of a leading historian of women, gender, or sexuality. Students are encouraged to choose an historian whose work is relevant for their own M.A. research. Directions and strategies for all written assignments will be discussed extensively during our seminar discussions and posted on Brightspace.

Professor Whitney will meet early in the term with individual students (probably over Zoom) to discuss their academic background, interests, and goals.

Note to students from other academic disciplines: Women’s and gender historians have long incorporated interdisciplinary approaches and students from academic programs other than History are welcome in the course.  They are forewarned, however, that this is a course in women’s, gender, and sexuality history, not in women’s studies. A background in history is advantageous, although not required or essential.

Questions? Please feel free to contact Professor Whitney at Susan.Whitney@carleton.ca if you would like more information about the course before it begins.