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  • Did Eley get too personal?

    Posted on October 19th, 2013 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    In A Crooked Line, Geoff Eley raves about how progressive Carolyn Steedman was as her book disobeying the rules of historical writing.  Including her in his historiography, Eley passionately discusses how liberating he found her use of personal voice and how effectively she moved back and forth between her personal history and the extensive repertoire of historical knowledge needed to shape it (Eley 174).

    It looks like Eley took a page out of Steedman’s book (crush much?) in his own writing, as he incorporates “the political, the historical, and the personal” (Spiegel 406).  Manu Goswami goes as far to call it a personal memoir, coupled with historiographical analysis and political critique that charts from social to cultural history (Goswami 417).  So, yes, Eley makes his text extremely personal, placing his own progression as a historian within his examination of how the study and discussion of history has progressed over time.  As I read, I kept asking myself:  How necessary is the personal aspect?

    Eley gave his readers a lot of reasons as to why history matters.  He used the first person and, in spots, he used it very frequently.  He interjected as many personal effects as possible.  And, to be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan.  Yes, I get that this was the point of his text.  Yet, at times I found it distracting and I yearned for the historiographical without the personal.  I wanted to read about history, enjoying my own love of history based on my own opinion, not his.

    By the end of the text, it did start to grow on me.  I even gained a greater appreciation for this tactic after reading the Forum.  Still, I’m not completely sold and I find myself wondering if his text could have done without it.

    Should Eley have left this page in Steedman’s book?  What do you think of Eley’s personal approach?  Is anyone else not quite sold on it, or did you find it distracting at times?  Are you considering using this strategy in your own writing at all?  And, if so, will you rely on it as heavily as Eley did?  Do you think wrapping content up in historical memory is adaptable in other disciplines?

    Now, as you ponder this, go get yourself a real Crooked Line:

     logo-crooked_line img-beer_bottles



  • What would today’s world be like without Joan Scott?

    Posted on October 13th, 2013 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    “We need a refusal of the fixed and permanent quality of the binary opposition, a genuine historicization and deconstruction of the terms of sexual difference.  We must become more self-conscious about distinguishing between our analytic vocabulary and the material we want to analyze.  We must find ways (however imperfect) to continually subject our categories to criticism, our analyses to self-criticism” (Scott 1065).

    Look how far scholarship has progressed since Scott set out her objectives in 1986.  The way scholars look at gender is lightyears past binary constructions and new vocabulary is continually arising for analyzing gender.  When you google “gender roles,” one of the first images that comes up is a picture labeled “gender roles reexamined” showing a boy playing with dolls and a girl playing with trucks.  Scholarship looking at men and women and everything in between has even surpassed what Scott hoped the world could accomplish when she wrote her groundbreaking article.

    When studying gender today, it is hard to imagine a world without Joan Scott.  As Joanne Meyerowitz explains, “In one brief essay, she managed to summarize the advent of gender history, provide critiques of earlier theories of women’s subordination, introduce historians to deconstructionist methods, and lay out an agenda for future historical studies.” (Meyerowitz 1346).

    Yet, what if Joan Scott never existed?  Can we imagine a world without her contributions?  Imagine if we went into some type of 80’s movie-esque time machine and lived in an alternative universe.  What would the world be like?

    Sure, other scholars had already done work with women’s history and some rumblings of work on gender.  By 1986, feminsits had already defined “gender” and were using it as analytical category.  In this alt-world society, let’s propose the very real possibility that the work prior to Scott would have fizzled out.  After Scott’s article, gender soon took on a life of its own.  It was Scott that replaced “women’s history” with “gender history” and included men and masculinity.

    Within the field of US history, some of the new work on gender history supposedly had little direct connection with Scott’s essay—but how much really would have been done without Scott momentously opening the doors?  (Meyerowitz 1348).   Although Meyerowitz cites that some of this work had nothing to do with Scott, let’s be real—her work have come into play somehow.  So, with these contentions, we are left in a world without “Gender: A Useful Category for Analysis.”

    What would this world look like without Scott’s groundbreaking work?  Could we only understand men and women in terms of rigid ideas of dichotomous biological sexes?   Would we still only think of gender in relation to the kinship system? Would women be inserted into discussions on the labor market or the polity at all?  How would we understand masculinity?  Would we even be examining masculinity?  How many terms would not even be a part of historians’ vocabulary? Would we even have any type of gender historiography to look at?  How would gender work in human and social relationships?  Would gender give other things meaning?  Would we be looking at class and race in the same way that we do today?  With what type of lens could scholars look at the LGBTQ community and how would historians even begin to approach this?  Could scholars continue to find new angles to frequently subjects such as the Civil War or social movements?

    Luckily, we never need to figure out these answers, but I look forward to discussing the implications of these questions in class.




  • Foucault and Power

    Posted on October 4th, 2013 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    “When you think Foucualt, think BIOPOWER!”

    I had a class on Humanitarian Action in undergrad, where we studied Foucault’s ideas of power and biopower.  Our teacher, in his beautiful British accent, told us to immediately think of these ideas when thinking about Foucault.  The class was very interesting (mostly because of the content, partially because of the accent) and these ideas did become inextricably linked.  Here is what I recall from the class: Foucault defined power “a complex strategic situation in a given societal setting.”  Biopower, in particular, had to do with control over someone’s body and their potential to fight/earn wealth.  A well functioning society depends on the interaction of authority, legitimacy, governance, and action.  The government is responsible for these interactions to function well.  In this course, we discussed biopower in the context of local governments and other power-hungry sources that try to take it away power from helpless peoples of the third world.  We then studied and strategized on the best ways to get them their power back, such as on the ground intervention from NGOs.

    It was a little trickier to make sense of Foucault’s views on power and biopower reading Discipline and Punish, rather than getting the boiled-down version.  While trying to make sense of Foucault, I was especially looking for these ideas of biopower.  I believe that Foucault’s public execution scene exemplifies this: “It is a ceremonial by which a momentarily injured sovereignty is reconstituted.  The public execution, however hasty and everyday, belongs to a whole series of great rituals in which power is eclipsed and restored…over and above the crime that has placed the sovereign in contempt, it deploys before all eyes an invincible force.  Its aim is not so much to re-establish a balance as to bring into play, as its extreme point, the dissymmetry between the subject who had dared to violate the law and the all-powerful sovereign who displays its strength” (48-49).  Overall, Foucault explains that power is fluid and a part of every interaction.  Power exists and resistance is a reaction to it.  After grappling with this idea for awhile, I found that the execution example definitely illustrates the concepts of power and extends them to go along with the larger themes of the text…which I am looking forward to linking as we discuss in class.