HIST 5803F: Women, Gender, and Sexuality History:  Foundations
Fall 2020

Instructor: Professor Susan Whitney

Feminists demanding abortion rights on Parliament Hill, May 1969

Feminists demanding abortion rights on Parliament Hill, May 1969

Course introduction: Everything has a history, and women’s and gender history is no exception. The academic study of women’s, gender, and sexuality history emerged out of the second-wave feminist activism that swept cities in North America and Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Feminists seeking to change women’s position in society looked to history to understand the origins of women’s inequality, whether in the law, economy, family, workplace, politics, religion, science, or higher education.  As women’s history developed into a scholarly field of study in the 1970s and 1980s, it incorporated new analytical categories (such as gender and race) and generated its own scholarly journals (including the Journal of Women’s History and Gender and History); conferences (especially the Berkshire Conference); book series (including UBC Press’ series Women’s Suffrage and the Struggle for Democracy); and publishing prizes. Since the 1980s, the scholarly field of women’s and gender history has globalized and incorporated new approaches and methodologies. The history of sexuality has developed into a separate field of study, one with its own concerns, practitioners, journals (the Journal of the History of Sexuality), and prizes. Carleton’s own graduate program in women’s, gender, and sexuality history reflects these broader developments. Students and faculty members currently work on topics and issues related to Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, and North America.  Some specialize in the history of sexuality.

Course description: This course is designed to introduce students to major developments and scholarship in the history of women, gender, and sexuality through seminar discussions, exchanges with classmates, written work, and one-on-one discussions with Professor Whitney. It also provides students the opportunity to investigate in depth the body of work of a leading historian of women, gender, and/or sexuality of their choice. Transnational in conception in keeping with the transnational nature of women’s and gender history, the course mixes careful attention to key themes, issues, and historical problems with chronological movement through time. Weekly assigned readings will illustrate how historians of women and gender frame historical problems and introduce students to the main theoretical and methodological approaches they employ.  Special attention will be paid to the topics, problems, and scholars that have defined the field and set the scholarly agenda. Although the reading list has not been finalized, topics considered in depth will likely include: gender history and its critics; critical historical perspectives on race; sexuality history; masculinities; feminist history as transnational subject; women, empire, and post-colonial realities; women and environmental activism; and age, gender, race, and class as intersecting categories of analysis. There will also be opportunities to reflect on the relevance of historical writing for our 2020 world and to learn about research done for M.A. theses and major research essays by previous students in the course.

Course format: The global pandemic has necessitated that this course be offered entirely online. At this point in early June, the course outline has not been finalized, nor has the exact format of our weekly classes been determined. That said, Professor Whitney is strongly committed to making this course succeed as a discussion-based graduate seminar.  Professor Whitney is currently consulting with colleagues at Carleton and elsewhere as well as with students who took the course in Fall 2018, the last time it was offered. The exact format and schedule will depend partly on enrolment. However, we will most likely combine some version of a Zoom seminar discussion of roughly two hours during the regularly scheduled class time with some smaller group discussions among students using break out rooms for the remainder of our class time. We may have to experiment to see what works best. Even though we will be conducting our seminars online, the core of the course will remain our collective discussions of weekly readings.  Assigned readings will typically include 4-5 scholarly articles or a 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 probably be among required readings.

Course assignments and evaluation: In addition to informed participation in weekly seminar discussions, students will be most likely be responsible for writing 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 of the student’s choice. Students are encouraged to select an historian whose body of work is relevant to their own M.A. research. Directions and strategies for all written assignments will be discussed extensively during our seminar discussions.

Professor Whitney will also meet individually online early in the term with students to discuss their interests, experiences, and expectations.

Students from academic programs other than History are welcome in the course.  However, they are forewarned that this is a course in women’s, gender, and sexuality history, not in women’s studies. Background in history is advantageous, but not essential.

More information: Please feel free to contact Professor Whitney at Susan.Whitney@carleton.ca

if you would like more information before the course begins.