Dear Nursing Clio Readers,
I can’t believe that one year ago this week, our little collaborative blog project went live. Has it really been that long? It seems like just yesterday Cheryl, Ashley, Carrie, Meggan, Adam, Carolyn and I were debating what to call this blog – Mons Pubis? Pubis Medicus? Nurse Clio? Thank God cooler heads prevailed and we went with Meggan’s suggestion of Nursing Clio (For an explanation of the name see here). As the creator, co-founder, and executive editor of this whole endeavor, I have to tell you, this has been an intensely fantastic, insane, scary, and rewarding first year. I have met some wonderful scholars, engaged in some lively debates, and formed what I hope will be life-long friendships. In every way, the blog has exceeded my expectations and I hope we continue to bring you important, relevant, and fun conversations throughout this next year.
As part of our weeklong birthday celebration, I’ve asked a few of our co-founders and contributors to reflect on their experiences blogging on such a public forum. Do they find it rewarding? What are the challenges? Is it useful for academics to engage with the public on this type of medium? I hope you will indulge us this week as we take a detour from our usual musings on the history of porn, the war on vaginas, and other such topics as we instead delve into why we think this project matters. As our mission statement reads, “Men’s and women’s bodies, their reproductive rights, and their healthcare are often at the center of political debate and have also become a large part of the social and cultural discussions in popular media. Whether the topic is abortion, birth control, sex, or the pregnant body, each and every one of these issues is embedded with historical dynamics of race, class, and gender.” I still believe that. Probably now more than ever before.
As for me, I thought I’d take this opportunity to relate a short story about how Nursing Clio came to be. On the very first day of my PhD program, I found myself sitting in a packed auditorium filled with an interdisciplinary group of “Merit Fellows” who had been gathered together for the summer in preparation for the upcoming semester at the big, scary R-1 University. The “Summer Institute,” it turns out, is a wonderful program that introduces a diverse set of doctoral students to the ins-and-outs of graduate school. My diversity street cred comes from the fact that I started out at a community college, took about a gazillion years off, and then returned to find myself at a fancy-pants university for my PhD studies. Who knew? Believe me, my family is as surprised at the trajectory of my academic career as I am.
Anyway, the program at “Summer Institute” consisted of a two-month class, a series of workshops, and lots and lots and lots of pep talks: “You are the cream of the cream of the crop!” “You can do this!” “We picked you because we wanted you!” Apparently, this exercise is meant to circumvent first-year PhD students from freaking the fuck out and quitting to join a commune or something. In my experience, it is a pretty effective program, as we only had one student drop out that first semester – muttering something about not wanting to spend the next five years of his life debating the agency of fish.
As it turns out, I did find the program extremely helpful. One pep talk in particular made a deep and lasting impression on me. After listening to several talks about what special snowflakes we graduate students were, a professor of psychology spoke to us about what our responsibilities to the community should be. Wait…responsibilities? Community? What on earth was this woman talking about? And what the hell did I get myself into? Well, she went on to argue that scholars should approach their work on three levels: 1) Personal scholarship 2) Service to students 3) And service to community. In other words, while you are teaching and rigorously creating that sliver of new knowledge that only about 5 people will ever read, what will you be doing in the meantime to engage with your community? What are you going to do with your skills outside of the ivory tower? These questions really made me reevaluate the possibilities of academic life. You mean, I can and should take what I am learning and apply it to a larger context outside the cloistered walls of academia? What a revolutionary concept!
This idea followed me around throughout my first year as a PhD student, partly because I have a natural interest in public history and partly because this very issue seems to be on the minds of most historians these days. During my second semester of graduate school, I had the opportunity to take a public humanities seminar that was designed to tackle these very questions. For the final, we were asked to create a project that not merely “served” the community, but instead engaged with the public in a way that fostered the co-production and discussion of knowledge. To me, the blogging platform seemed to fit this criteria perfectly, and with the “War on Women” just beginning to heat up, I felt that blogging might be an interesting and dynamic way to start conversations about the historical context integral to these political and cultural debates.
So, I typed out a long-winded proposal to a few of my colleagues across the country:
Hello Gender and Medicine Friends!
The purpose of this message is to propose a collaborative project that will not require too much work from anyone, but will be really cool, and hopefully a lot of fun.
As part of my Public Scholarship in the Humanities class this semester, I have to come up with a final project that will both foster academic engagement while also engaging actively with the public. One of the big themes of the semester has been the “co-production of knowledge” between academia and various forms of the public.
After racking my brain for several weeks, I think I’ve stumbled upon an idea that will not only be really innovative, but also a way that we as “gender and medicine” historians can work together to produce something meaningful for public consumption.
I would like to start a collaborative blog that ties in present-day political, social, and cultural issues surrounding gender and medicine. As we all know, men’s and women’s health, especially reproductive health, has suddenly become front-page news and it occurs to me that the internet lacks a coherent, intelligent, informative, and fun historical source for these issues. . . . My thinking is that this blog could be a great teaching tool in the classroom as well as for the public at large. With all of us working together, we could lessen the individual burden while also fostering community between a group of gender and medicine historians. Additionally, since we are all positioned at different points across the country – Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Louisiana – I think this blog will have a nice national scope and we can include links to local events, exhibits, and lectures that are happening around us. Also, if you know anyone else that might be interested in being a collaborator, let me know.
What do you say?
Thank God they all said yes!
I am eternally grateful for all of the blood, sweat and tears my fellow co-founders have put into the blog this past year. I am also incredibly lucky to have great contributors like Austin, Elizabeth, Sandra, Tina, Rachel, Heather, and Tiffany on board. I am also excited about extending Nursing Clio’s reach beyond the United States with our Australian blogger, Sean and our Northern Ireland blogger, Helen. I hope this next year brings us even more diversity, wider discussions, and interesting opportunities. I hope you all have enjoyed reading Nursing Clio as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it.
Happy Birthday Nursing Clio!