Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I like March, but I don't want my history confined to it

Here it is, March 31 and I've almost entirely missed Women's History Month. Whoops. This is likely a subconscious reaction to the reality that I'm not a huge fan of "months." While I appreciate the importance of calling attention to historically marginalized groups, there is something in me that rebels against the idea of balkanizing the historical landscape. I acknowledge that "history" has traditionally meant mostly-dead white dudes doing Important Political and Military Things, and correspondingly, it is necessary to teach entire courses (and devote months) to vitally important topics like African American History, Women's History, Native American History, and so on.

That said, I propose a sneakier approach.

There's nothing I like better than planning out a U.S. history survey... using memoirs written by women as students' primary-source readings. Why should we limit ourselves to months? After all, I'm a woman living in America 12 months out of the year, and roughly 50 percent of the population always has been. Women might not have been in positions of power, but they were part of the story from the very beginning, even if sometimes their story was a sad one.

In the spirit of the "month," then, but seeking to move beyond that constraint toward a fuller portrayal of our heritage, here are a few of the books I like to slip into surveys. I would love to hear of other books that could be useful, either within the academy or in the larger (and therefore more significant) world of people who simply want to know more about the world they live in:

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife's Tale
Family and community life in early America--and the central role women played in it.
Jane Addams, Ten Years at Hull-House
The settlement house movement. Also, the struggles of a woman living in a very circumscribed world--and realizing she was not happy to occupy a circumscribed place within it.
Monica Sone, Nisei Daughter
Life in Seattle for a Japanese American girl-cum-woman, before--and after--Pearl Harbor.
Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi
A desperately poor child of the segregated South grows up to fight for her rights despite a climate of fear, danger and violent oppression.


Jason said...

I remember reading Out of the Shadow in US History as an undergrad. It's a diary of Rose Cohen, an Russian Jewish immigrant to New York in 1892. An interesting look at gender, immigration, class, religion, and assimilation at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries.

Laura Gifford said...

Fascinating! I'm not familiar with that one, Jason -- will definitely be looking it up. Thanks!