February Question of the Month

Jesse George-Nichol's picture
Welcome to our Question of the Month series, which we hope will launch robust discussions about research, pedagogy, and practice in the study of women and gender in the U.S. South.  We also hope that subscribers from all backgrounds and at all stages of their careers will share ideas, insights, questions, and resources--just click the 'Post a Reply' button to join the conversation! 
This month we continue our series inspired by the recently published book Sisterly Networks: Fifty Years of Southern Women's Histories, edited by Catherine Clinton.
In her essay "A Place Where Women Can Feel Valued," Melissa Walker argues that "the SAWH has done two important things: advance the careers of individual female historians and encourage, develop, and legitimize the study of women's history."  What effect has the SAWH had on your career, and how has the SAWH shaped the way you engage with history?
If you have any questions or comments about the series or have any suggestions for our next Question of the Month, please email H-SAWH editor Jesse George-Nichol (jesse.george.nichol@gmail.com).  This series will also post to H-SAWH's Twitter feed at @HNetSAWH.

Thanks for the question. I’ll be happy to start. When I finished grad school in 1996, I landed at Converse College, a small liberal arts women’s college with a small co-ed grad program. I was thrilled because I had graduated from a small liberal arts institution, and my experience there was transformative.

What I did not realize was how intellectually isolated I might feel there. I was the only woman in a combined history and politics department of 5 people. I was the first new hire in my department in 15 years. My colleagues were encouraging of my scholarship (though one was openly disdainful of oral history as a historical methodology), but their interests and mine were miles apart. There were a few people in other departments working on women’s topics, but their interests were also pretty different. I was attending conferences, but because I had gone to an extremely small graduate program, I didn’t have much of a network. I was an SAWH member and attended the 1997 triennial in Charleston, but I still felt professionally isolated.

That changed in 1999 when Catherine Clinton came to nearby Wofford College as a visiting scholar. I asked her to give a guest lecture at Converse. Next thing I knew, Catherine was recruiting me to be the SAWH executive secretary for a five-year term starting in 2000. She coached me on how to sell the idea to my institution, and next thing I knew, I had daily contact with women whose books i had admired for years. It was life-changing, opening doors to all kinds of opportunities and engaging me with female scholars who were doing important work and were supportive of the kinds of historical questions I was exploring. I credit the SAWH as being the main vehicle fir my professional success.

From Dr. Jean A. Stuntz, via Twitter (@JeanAStuntz):

The SAWH allowed me to meet scholars across the country. These scholars have been role models and mentors, book editors and collaborators. Now I see the new generation's work and I am relieved that they will carry on this wonderful tradition of scholarship and mentorship.