Text & Readings for Women's History Discussion/May 1997

Query From Ron Smallwood rsmallwd@nlc.bc.ca 23 May 1997

I will be teaching a History of Women in the Western World from Pre-History to Present, and I would like suggestions as to a book or two to use in the course. The last time I taught the course, two years ago, I used both volumes of _A History of Their Own_ by Anderson and Zinsser. *I* liked the books, but my students had the following concerns:

  1. none were history majors and didn't have the general history background needed to get the most out of the books.
  2. many of the students (2/3?) were not working toward a degree but were taking it out of interest and they found the big volume of fine print intimidating.
  3. lastly, and my biggest concern, there was nothing about women in the new world.

I was wondering if there is a good single volume women's history text and a good readings book combination out there some place. Thanks for any and all help you can give me.


>From Maria Elena Raymond 73113.1362@compuserve.com 26 May 1997

Hi Ron, In addition to answers I expect you will receive from the list, I would suggest you take a look at the H-Women web site, checking both under bibliographies and syllabi. You may find suggestions there, since this question comes up from time to time. The URL is http://h-net2.msu.edu/~women/bibs and http://h-net2.msu-edu/~women and click on syllabi listing.
Best wishes.

>From Marlene LeGates mlegates@capcollege.bc.ca 26 May 1997

At the risk of being immodest, may I suggest my recently published book _Making Waves: A History of Feminism in Western Society_. I teach a course at Capilano College very similar to yours and although it isn't a history of feminism course, the students find it very useful to have a theme. The book covers Europe and North America (yes Canada!) from Jesus to the 1970s and has time lines in each chapter. It gives a good overview and allows you to do other material in lectures. It's published by Addison-Weslery, ISBN 7730-5483-9. You can call Pierre Cuay at 604-734-5932 or call the publisher directly at 800-263-9965. I'd be interested in knowing if you find it suitable.

>From Teresa Santerre Hobby info@spencewood.com 26 May 1997

I have used the five-volume set titled _A History of Women in the West_ for a large research project. It has been quite informative as well as pleasurable reading. Look it over. I ordered my set from the online bookstore, www.amazon.com. They ship quickly. I have included the Amazon synopses for your review. All are available in either paper or hard cover. Good luck.

A History of Women in the West Synopses: Informed by the work of 75 distinguished historians, this five-volume series sets before us an engaging, panoramic chronicle that extends from antiquity to the present day.

Vol. 1: From Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints, by George Duby et al ...offers fresh insight into more than 20 centuries of Greek and Roman history to illustrate how representations of women evolved during this age.

Vol. 2: Silences of the Middle Ages by Christiane Klapisch-Zuber ...drawing on myriad sources, this second volume ...offers new perspectives on women of the past. ...historians...examine the image of women in the masculine mind, their social condition and their daily experience from the Roman Empire to the Italian Renaissance. 57 halftones(in hardcover edition).

Vol. 3: Renaissance and Enlightenment Paradoxes by Natalie Zemon Davis, et al ...draws a richly detailed picture of women in early modern Europe, a world that seems in odd ways a walled garden of words and images meant to circumscribe an expansive and ever-stronger weaker sex.

Vol. 4: Emerging Feminism from Revolution to World War by Genevieve Fraisse, et al [Text from Midwest Book Review]...this volume does succeed in standing alone as a fine examination of the evolution of women's cultural identity. Chapters consider such varied issues as poverty and mother's rights, links between education and consciousness-raising, and the evolution of women's cultural forces in Europe and America. A similar focus on women of color would be a welcome balance to the series.

Vol. 5: Toward a Cultural Identity in the 20th Century by Francoise Thebaud, et al

>From Jenny Lloyd jlloyd@acspr1.brockport.edu 28 May 1997

I am planning a similar course in the fall semester, and am using Bonnie Smith's _Changing Lives_ which I used before when I was teaching just European history, plus the selection of articles edited by Nancy Hewitt for the American part. Don't know how it will work, and I don't think the solution is perfect. My class is very similar in being primarily non-historians.

>From Pamela McVay gq342@cleveland.Freenet.edu 29 May 1997

I'm going to follow up Ron Smallwood with one helpful and one rather unhelpful comment. With respect to teaching about women in the New World, I think Harriet Jacob's _Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl_(now available in paperback for less that 10$) brings up practically every important issue of women's lives in the New World: Gender ideology, imperialism, race relations, work, motherhood, etc. It's not a textbook, of course, but if you're doing the whole of Western women's history, how much time are you going to spend on the New World? You could certainly use only lectures to back up Jacobs' book if you're only spending a week or two on the New World.

Less helpfully, I'm not sure the first two reasons your students give for not liking Anderson and Zinsser are important. Most of my students aren't history majors, either, and most of them don't like reading their textbooks, either. But this hardly stems from the actual quality of Anderson and Zinsser's volumes. Rather, it's a complaint I get in EVERY SINGLE HISTORY class I teach, from Chinese Civilization to the Middle Eastern Survey to Medieval History. And I get these complaints even when the students write overwhelmingly positive evaluations of the course as a whole. A more helpful approach(for the students)might be to take twenty minutes to teach them how to study a textbook appropriately in the context of history classes. The kind of reading you do to understand a History book is quite different from the kind you do to understand a math text. Teaching them to read the introduction and conclusion of each chapter, to read and take BRIEF notes on each sub-section(what is/are the main 1-3 points of this section), and to review their notes after they've read will help most students. I've generally found that I'm the first person ever to have told them that this is the most effective way to read in History, and it does help most of them.

I apologize for not fully addressing Dr. Smallwood's question. I offer as an excuse my great admiration of Anderson and Zinsser's survey, which I think is excellent and more readable than most surveys of Western Civilization. (Oh, by the way, my students even find Perry's A BRIEF HISTORY OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION a little intimidating, and a more clearly organized if conservative survey you'll rarely find.)

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