Over the past few weeks I’ve been putting together my second-semester elective which is called "19th and 20th Century Women’s History." This is my first time teaching the course and I have to admit to being just a little nervous. I am new to the material and with 14 girls and no boys registered I can’t help but think that I am in for a few uncomfortable moments. In my best moments I tend to think that my feelings of uneasiness are a positive sign of a willingness to take chances. Here is my course description:
This course focuses on the history of women in the United States during the late 19th and 20th centuries. The major historical events involving women during this period are analyzed: the Suffrage movement, Progressivism, World War II, the 1960’s, and the Feminist Movement. Specific themes include women at work, abortion, women and politics, and women in the military. The course also includes a unit on the debates surrounding the social and political construction of gender. The class seeks to uncover the factors that affected women’s lives as well as the major changes in women’s history and the cause of those changes.
The class is organized as a research seminar and roundtable discussion. Students spend a significant amount of class time exploring a topic of their choice with the goal of producing an essay that utilizes a wide range of primary sources. Research skills that are emphasized include formulating a research question and thesis, collecting and organizing material, and producing critical/analytical writing. In addition, students are expected to come to class prepared to engage in discussion with their peers. Each student is responsible for leading the class discussion at least once during the semester. Ultimately, the goal of this course is to develop an appreciation for the process of doing history in a cooperative, inquisitive, and intellectual environment.
I’ve ordered two texts, including Through Women’s Eyes: An American History With Documents edited by Ellen C. DuBois and Lynn Dumenil and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The former book is a text with primary sources and I hope to integrate Friedan and other secondary sources into the class during the semester. We are going to start in the period following the Civil War since I want to spend as much time on more recent trends as possible. The big question that I need to figure out is whether I want to stick to a strictly chronological approach or organize by themes. I like the idea of organizing the class around themes. For example, I just finished reading a chapter on "Work" in Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women and thought that we could begin with it and then look at some of the history. This might work well when we get to topics such as birth control and other issues related to sexual relations.
I am also looking for quality movies that focus on gender and women’s history in the 20th century. Overall this has been alot of fun organizing and I can’t wait to get started.