Teaching Intellectual and Social History Disc/Feb 1998


Query From Janann Sherman sherman@memphis.edu 24 Feb 1998

I have undertaken to develop a course on American social and intellectual history and am seeking advice on ways in which to make it more "user friendly" if you will, to women and African Americans and others who have heretofore been outside traditional historical discourse. I took a course with this name some time ago and mostly what I remember was its focus on great men with great ideas. That is not what I wish to do.

I am eager to explore as many options as possible, so I have a number of broad questions concerning conceptualizing a course like this. Do you delimit it by focusing on one theme, or a few themes? How do you strike a balance between the social and the intellectual, or, for that matter, deal with the intersections between those two. How do you deal with chronology as you explore ideas and social movements? I would be very grateful for suggestions for readings, teaching strategies, projects that address the very broad social and intellectual history of the United States. Thanks so much.

Responses:

From Joan R. Gundersen gunderj@numen.elon.edu 25 Feb 1998

First of all a course in social and intellectual history has plenty of room for women, and for people of all backgrounds. One thing that women's history has done is to point ways that historians narrowly defined the topics so that what women wrote was outside the "appropriate" topics for intellectual history. Consider this: the discussions about gender and the roles of women ARE a form of intellectual history. For the 19th century one could include such theorists as Judith Sargent Murray, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anna Cooper, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Charolette Perkins Gilman without stretching the terms much at all. If you look at the Social Gospel then consider Vida Scudder. If you consider economic justice then don't just do Veblen, do Emma Goldman or Jane Addams. If religion is a topic, then consider the Theosophists and Christian Science Movements where women had leadership roles. These are reflective of parts of the intellectual discussion. In the twentieth century there are lots of choices including women such as Zora Neale Hurston who could and should be a part of the discussion. Social history opens the doors to a floodgate of material on people left out of the "old histories", so much in fact that it would be inappropriate to try to list them here. The trick here is to really look at the themes. If religion IS part of intellectual discussion, then make sure you look beyond seminaries, if education, then look at the ways gender discourse shapes the discussion about "appropriate" education.

From Nikki Brown (GD 1999) nikki.brown@yale.edu 25 Feb 1998

In response to the question about social and intellectual history, I was a TA for a course called "American Intellectual Thought, the 20th century." It was taught by Cynthia Russett, Professor of History at Yale, and she put together an excellent syllabus that was both thematic and chronological. It began with intellectual thought just before WWI and ended in the mid-80s. The middle sections were the Lost Generation, the Harlem Renaissance, the Depression, the New York School of Thought during the war, post WWII and the end of Ideology, the Beats in the 50s, the Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech Movement, and intellectual thought of the 70s and early 80s.

For the Harlem Renaissance and women's history, the book we used was Zora Neale Hurston's _Their Eyes were Watching God_ and an excerpt from an Alice Walker book about Hurston (I can't remember the title). For the Civil rights movements, we used James Baldwin's _The Fire Next Time_ and Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." There was an interesting selection from Shulamith Firestone's _The Dialectic of Sex_, and if it helps, Norman Mailer's "The White Negro." I would also include an excerpt from Malcolm X's _The Autobiography of Malcolm X_ because it makes for great discussion and it addresses the movement from left-of-non-violence viewpoint.

For the women's movement of the 70s,_The Feminine Mystique_ might also be good, though I haven't yet read it. I can go into better detail when I locate the syllabus. I hope this helps though.

From Jillian Dickert dickert@binah.cc.brandeis.edu 25 Feb 1998

...may want to get in touch with Professor Shulamith Reinharz at Brandeis University. She teaches a course called "Women and Intellectual Work" (I was her TA several years ago), for which you might want to get her syllabus. She also publishes a chronological list of women's intellectual contributions which you might find useful.

Professor Reinharz is on the faculty of the Department of Sociology at Brandeis and heads the university's Women's Studies program. Her e-mail address is: reinharz@binah.cc.brandeis.edu

From Susan E. Klepp sklepp@aol.com 27 Feb 1998

One approach to this unwieldy subject is to focus on ideas of equality in American intellectual history, a subject of interest not only to "great men", but also to women and African American men and women. An examination of opportunity provides a social (and economic) context for equality.