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Living with History / Making Social Change

Gerda Lerner

Publication Year: 2009

Six of the twelve essays are new, written especially for this volume; the others have previously appeared in small journals or were originally presented as talks, and have been revised for this book. Several essays discuss feminist teaching and the problems of interpretation of autobiography and memoir for the reader and the historian. Lerner's reflections on feminism as a worldview, on the meaning of history writing, and on problems of aging lend this book unusual range and depth.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title page, Copyright Page

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Note on Style

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pp. vii-x

The terms of reference by which African Americans have referred to themselves have changed over the course of history. I have followed the practice of using the designation chosen by the author or by the group in question during a particular historical...

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pp. 1-19

At this time, when I look back on my life and my work, I see patterns and connections that were not so clearly visible at an earlier stage of my life. The impact of outside political and social events that I experienced in childhood and as a teenager shaped my connection to history: I was a victim of terror and persecution...


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pp. 20-22

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1. A Life of Learning

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pp. 23-37

This essay is based on my Charles Homer Haskins Lecture, presented to the American Council of Learned Societies on May 6, 2005.* Being chosen for this lectureship is a distinct honor, which comes with the obligation common to all honorees to address the assigned topic, “A Life of Learning”—in short, to present an intellectual autobiography...

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2. Women among the Professors of History: The Story of a Process of Transformation

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pp. 38-51

When I entered graduate studies in 1963, women represented a tiny fraction of professional historians. Women entering the profession in middle age were considered “freaks” and were viewed with suspicion. Most of us never saw a woman or a nonwhite professor during our doctoral studies. Isolation, alienation...

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3. The M.A. Program in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College

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pp. 52-70

The twelve years I spent at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, north of New York City, allowed me to translate my theoretical insights about Women’s History into practice. Because I was able, in 1973, to secure a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, supporting the start-up Graduate...


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4. The Meaning of Seneca Falls

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pp. 73-84

This chapter and the next deal with the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 and the political and social movement it engendered as an event of major significance, both in the past and in the present. In this chapter I try to place the event in its proper historical setting.* In Chapter 5 I deal more closely with the practical lessons...

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5. Midwestern Leaders of the Modern Women’s Movement

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pp. 85-102

It all began with a feeling of personal discontent in 1967, a year after the founding of the National Organization for Women. I was one of the founders, but as the media began to transmit information about the new movement, the stereotypes of its members began to emerge, and people like me—a mother of two in her late forties...

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6. Women in World History

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pp. 103-113

This chapter is based on a paper I gave at a conference on World History.* I was asked specifically to speak on how women might be included in the World History survey. It was a question I had encountered in various forms wherever I spoke on Women’s History. The traditional training historians had received and their years...

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7. Taming the Monster: Workshop on the Construction of Deviant Out-Groups

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pp. 114-129

Having tried in all my years of teaching to do justice to the problem of “differences” among women and finding various approaches inadequate, I finally, in the 1980s, struck out in a new direction. Tired of merely describing the social construction of differences in society, I tried to find out why hierarchical governments...

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8. Autobiography, Biography, Memory, and the Truth

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pp. 130-154

I have worked as a writer for most of my life. Like most writers, I have used my own life as a source for the imagination, writing autobiographical novels and short stories, as well as poetry, inspired by lived events and remembered feelings...


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9. The Historian and the Writer

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pp. 157-162

In 2002 I was awarded the Bruce Catton Prize for Achievement in History and Writing, given by the Society of American Historians.* The purpose of that society is “to encourage literary distinction in the writing of history and biography.” I have been a writer far longer than I have been a historian...

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10. Holistic History: Challenges and Possibilities

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pp. 163-179

In this essay I revisit a question that has occupied me since 1969: what is the significance of Women’s History for the entire field of history? How will Women’s History affect and change the practice of historians in the future? I wrote on this subject several times during the past decades and often addressed it in my public lectures...

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11. Transformational Feminism (An Interview)

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pp. 180-187

This interview took place in 1997 and appeared in a small journal with a specialized readership.* It did not reach my usual audiences of historians and feminist academics. I choose to include it in this volume because it states in a very personal voice, my own speaking voice, the essential themes of this book...

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12. Reflections on Aging

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pp. 188-198

It is part of life, and yet it is more difficult than anything that came before it. It presents us daily with new challenges and demands. When one is younger, one goes through various life stages, all of which are culturally recognized and supported. Childhood, adolescence, adulthood, the stage of nurturing one’s own family and children...

APPENDIX A. Biographies of Midwestern Feminist Leaders

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pp. 199-207

APPENDIX B. Class Syllabus for Workshop on the Construction of Deviant Out-Groups (Chapter 7)

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pp. 208-214

APPENDIX C. Group Exercises for Workshop on the Construction of Deviant Out-Groups (Chapter 7)

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pp. 215-217

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pp. 218-220

I owe special thanks to my main readers, Linda Kerber and Alice Kessler-Harris. They offered more than several superb critical readings and many suggestions for improvements; they encouraged me throughout the process of revising and gave me new perspectives on how some of my arguments...


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pp. 221-234

E-ISBN-13: 9781469605920
E-ISBN-10: 1469605929
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807832936
Print-ISBN-10: 0807832936

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Lerner, Gerda, 1920-.
  • Women -- History -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- United States.
  • Women college teachers -- United States.
  • Feminism and higher education -- United States
  • Social change -- United States.
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