This course studies the histories of ordinary people from the 19th through the 21st centuries, by focusing on North American womanhood. Readings, discussions and interviews, spotlight the richness, diversity and historical significances of women’s lives, past and present. The approach provides new perspectives on familiar subjects, like war and peace, sickness and health, leisure and work.
Three convictions steer the course. First, gender is a social construct. Second, women’s histories differ from each other, with categories like race, class, age, and sexuality, shaping the difference. Third, popular culture, like Hollywood film, provides insight into what it meant to be a woman, man, or nonconforming gender adult or child within a specific time and place.
We get at the meaning throughout the term by analyzing primary sources like letters, diaries, short stories, graphic novels, autobiography, photography, movies and ‘the’ news. Theoretical works in literature, media and transnationalism, help us understand what we read, see and hear. The learning continues after class in weekly journals, where students reflect on how the past is present. It culminates in a final research project that explores a topic of interest within or beyond the American landscape.
Students will be compelled to question the familiar by the end of the course. Many will use their knowledge and insights to pursue graduate work in fields like American, Media and Peace Studies, Art History, Social Psychology, Political Science and Literature, as well as Gender and History. Some will pursue internships in social justice and ecological stability by working at NGOs that promote physical, political and economic well-being. All use their critical thinking skills, essential for studying any discipline, to navigate an increasingly unstable world.