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Posts from the ‘Features’ Category

Adventures in the Archives: Searching for the Past

by Sarah Handley-Cousins

For much of this past year, I’ve been entrenched in dissertation research. Despite the long hours hunched over dusty papers, trying to decipher century-old handwriting, generally while cold and hungry, I’m not complaining. I’m continually amazed that I’m getting the opportunity to do exactly what I’ve always wanted: the work of history. What I wasn’t prepared for, necessarily, was the emotional work that would come along with it.

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Adventures in the Archives…Of Our Lives

This semester, I taught an introductory-level course on historical methods. One of our tasks was to consider an array of historical materials. We read novels and memoirs; watched documentaries and Hollywood films; read speeches and government policies; looked at architectural plans and advertisements for suburban homes. We even watched an episode of Star Trek. Throughout this exploration, a theme we kept coming back to was how people of the past documented their daily lives. This prompted us to consider how historians of the future will examine our daily lives. What sources will they use? What sources are we leaving behind?

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Adventures in the Archives: The Living Past

By Adam Turner

The stereotype of historians isolated in archives with dusty papers and dim lighting has more than a grain of truth to it. Granted, my archive experiences have been more ice cold and brightly lit than dank, but the isolation can be striking. I've spent entire days immersed more in the past than in the world around me. History work can be lonely and leave you feeling cut off from the present. This can actually be useful when it means closer connection with historical actors and their worlds. But you run the risk of getting cut off from everything -- both the past and the present -- during the at-times mind-numbing search for that single piece of valuable evidence within reams of irrelevant material.

After hours of paging through letters, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles unrelated to my own project, I start seeing paper rather than people. At these times, it is easy to forget that the "useless" sources are snippets of people's lives. Even if only momentarily, they intersected with the lives of one or many individuals -- people with full, rich lives outside of my own area of research interest. Because zoning out like this over so many scraps of paper can be such an issue, it's both welcoming and jarring when a source wrenches me out of that funk: when it forces me to come face-to-face with the lived experience of the past.

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Adventures in the Archives: Julia Heller’s “Boy Friends Book”

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis

One of the writing assignments that I use in my American women’s history class is a series of primary document analyses. Each one uses a different digital database or archive to locate a document and analyze it using course materials. I like to imagine this is building twenty-first century research skills and teaching responsible use of the Internet, as well as our more traditional goal of critical thinking skills. As I was constructing the assignment, I explored several digital repositories, including the North American Women’s Letters and Diaries collection from Alexander Street Press. In the process, I stumbled upon an item that very quickly sucked me in. I had no choice but to drop everything else and read it very, very carefully.

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Adventures in the Archives: These Losses Which Are Not My Own

By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
Lately I find that my mind is muddled. I have accepted a position at a new institution, so both professionally and personally there are big changes ahead. In the meantime, I am caught in that strange space in-between. I am finishing up projects and responsibilities here, even as I am already making plans and thinking about my courses there. I look around my home and my campus office and all I see are things that need to be put into boxes. It is a strange time in which beginnings and endings are all tangled into one busy mess. No wonder it’s hard to get anything “done”.

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Are We Stuck in the 1970s?

By Rachel Epp Buller
Having made and studied art for quite a few years now, I find that issues in contemporary culture often lead my mind to wander to art historical references. "Binders full of women," equal pay for equal work, reproductive rights - it all leads me back to art. For instance, over the centuries we've seen a consistent historical pattern of interest among male artists in representing the vagina - Leonardo da Vinci, Gustave Courbet, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Christian Schad, to name only a few (see also TimeOut New York's recent survey of the vagina in art, heavily populated by male artists). But it's only in recent decades that women artists have turned to the vagina as subject (object?).

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Stop Putting My Vagina in a Binder!

By Cheryl Lemus
Well I have to be honest with you all, unlike most of my fellow Nursing Clio authors, Carrie, Adam, and Ashley, I did not finish Vagina: A Biography. Each and every time I opened the book, with the full intention of reading a chapter, two to three pages in, I dozed off. I did manage, finally, to get through some of the chapters and in the end, I found myself not really caring about the vagina as a goddess. I had one thing in mind when I first started this piece, where I was going to discuss what sort of vagina my vagina wanted to be and then Tuesday night's debate aired. Well wouldn't you know it, Romney made the brilliant "binders full of women," comment (it is has to be up their with "I like trees," but maybe not), and it made me think about how it connects to Wolf's book. Throughout history the vagina has been put into neat little categories, binders if you will, that have been used to define, stigmatize, and even defile women. Our vaginas have defined us as sex objects, mothers, weaker employees, and victims, while at the same time branded us emotional, irrational, and fragile. So how does this relate to Wolf, you ask? It's simple, Wolf wants to place the vagina into another binder labeled "Vagina as Goddess," and it is another category that in the end, will bite women in the ass. The vagina is NOT a goddess and therefore we are NOT goddesses.

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The “Mind-Vagina Connection”

By Ashley Baggett
It is day 3 of "Vagina Week" and today we hear from Ashley Baggett who discusses Wolf's mysterious "mind-vagina" connection and the problematic analysis of Victorian medical history.
In reading Naomi Wolf’s Vagina, I could not help but focus on the immense problem with, among many things, the “mind-vagina connection.” She argues that an intense connection exists between the female mind and her vagina, a connection so deep that women’s sense of self, creativity, etc, are essentially controlled by their vaginas. My first reaction when I came across that phrase was to throw the book on the floor. Serious ramifications exist for such a claim, and as a self-proclaimed feminist, Wolf should have been aware of this. After I calmed down, I retrieved the book from the corner of the room and tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I found my initial response to be repeated over and over again. I wanted to scream “how can she not see this argument has been made already but to the detriment of women?!?”

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Because Science Says So

By Adam Turner
Vagina Week continues! With this post by Adam Turner on Naomi Wolf's use of Science! in her new book,
Vagina: A Biography. Naomi Wolf uses a whole lot of science in her new book, Vagina: A Biography (perhaps more accurately called an autobiography). She lectures at length about the nervous system, stress responses, brain chemistry, and how all of these things seem to have their center in powerful mind-altering (heterosexual, vaginal) sex. Taking her personal experiences as a jumping-off point (itself a dubious scientific technique) Wolf references a wide variety of studies to make her argument that the vagina, broadly defined, is a driving force in women's lives, responsible for their happiness, successful relationships, creativity, and existential health.

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Welcome to Vagina Week!

By Carrie Adkins
It is officially "Vagina Week" here at Nursing Clio. Carrie Adkins, Adam Turner, Ashley Baggett, Rachel Epp Buller, and Cheryl Lemus will each post their thoughts about Naomi Wolf's new book, Vagina: A Biography, and dissecting some of Wolf's claims about vaginas, orgasms, and female sexuality. Please consider posting your own thoughts in the comments section!
Carrie Adkins kicks off "Vagina Week" with an overall analysis of Wolf's book:

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