One Year of Making the Personal Historical

One Year of Making the Personal Historical

In 2009, historian Jill Lepore told an interviewer that “as an obsessive reader of newspapers and watcher of news,” she was struck by “how impoverished our historical perspective is on most contemporary problems.”  She was absolutely right.  In 2012, as we, the co-founders of Nursing Clio, began to conceptualize our project, the news was making me want to lose my mind.  Every day, I watched as Republicans proposed – and sometimes passed – new bills that limited access to safe and affordable abortions.  And, to my horror, they didn’t stop there but instead started attacking contraception as well.  Lawmakers worked to eliminate insurance coverage for birth control; Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a “slut” because she opposed those measures; and the presidential candidate Rick Santorum went so far as to state that contraception itself was “not okay.”   Watching these developments, I went from bemused to angry to downright scared.  We were supposed to be living in the twenty-first century!  What on earth was happening here?


To be sure, others were certainly reacting with the same anger and fear, and they were writing about it in print and online.  Like Lepore, though, I felt that the news coverage lacked any sort of profound historical perspective.  I am a historian of gender and medicine, and in 2012 I was just starting to write a dissertation about gynecology and obstetrics in the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century United States.  As the so-called “war on women” gained momentum, my scholarly interests began appearing on the news every day in a contemporary context.  And very few people, it seemed, were commenting on those connections between the past and the present – which was one of the reasons I thought that a project like Nursing Clio was not only intellectually appealing but also genuinely necessary.

Nursing Clio offered me a place to consider the present-day significance of my historical interests, to contemplate the ways that our history shapes our lives. I believed in the mission statement we crafted, which emphasized the goal of connecting historical scholarship to contemporary issues related to gender and medicine.  I also loved our tagline, “The Personal Is Historical,” which added a new and important dimension to the groundbreaking feminist claim that “the personal is political.”  I committed to Nursing Clio because I thought we could build a space for meaningful reflections of the “historical perspective” that Lepore found missing in most coverage of current events – a space which, unlike my more traditional scholarly work, would allow me to highlight the aspects of the histories of gender, sexuality, and medicine that seem to resonate most powerfully in the world around me.

arise sisters

And, although I realize that I am certainly biased, I do think that we at Nursing Clio have built that space.  My first post, published almost a year ago now, outlined the Republican attacks on abortion and contraception and argued that it was time to bring back the second-wave feminist construction of gynecology as a possible source of empowerment.  Other contributors have very successfully connected various contemporary news items with their historical contexts: here I’m thinking about Carolyn Herbst Lewis’s piece on sex education, Adam Turner’s piece on marriage equality, and Ashley Baggett’s piece on the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, just to give a few excellent examples.  We’ve even published examinations of ostensibly trivial, silly, or superficial subjects – Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, Fifty Shades of Gray, American Horror Story – and demonstrated that they also matter and that understanding their significance requires historical context too.

Our readers have shown us that they care about what we do.  Reflecting on the past year, I feel incredibly grateful to all of the people – friends, relatives, and strangers – who have visited our site, commented on our posts, shared our work, and “liked” us on Facebook.  And I want for us to reach an even wider audience!  I’m proud of the work that we’ve done at Nursing Clio, and I also think we can do so much more.  During the next year, and the years after that, I hope we continue doing what we’ve been doing, and I also hope we branch out – covering more of the world, thinking more about race and class and sexuality, and exploring new ways of connecting the present with the past.

Happy birthday to us!  It’s been a fantastic year.  I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

Carrie Adkins earned her Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Oregon in 2013. Her specific scholarly interests include gender, sexuality, race, and medicine in American history.