- Women in Higher Education: An Encyclopedia
Why does one buy an encyclopedia about a particular topic? Is it to gain a quick overview of a broad field or huge topic? Is it for the references listed after each entry? Is it because of the expertise of the entry authors? Is it because having the book on one's shelf indicates to others an interest in the topic, even if the interest is marginal? These questions came to mind when I received the volume Women in Higher Education: An Encyclopedia for review.
Not only did I wonder why one would buy an encyclopedia on this topic, but also what would constitute appropriate criteria for reviewing it. Certainly some of the same reasons one might buy it would constitute criteria, for example, expertise of the authors and the current nature and extent of references listed for entries. In their introductory remarks, the editors Ana M. Martinez Aleman and Kristen A. Renn noted references or "resources for further exploration of topics of interest" (p. xxiii) as one criterion for the book. They also noted an encyclopedia should "convey essential information about an area of interest to a broad audience" (p. xxii). Finally, while the author of the foreword, M. Elizabeth Tidball, said that an "explicitly feminist approach emanates from the book as a whole" (p. xvii), I wondered if having this approach was relevant to the value of the book. Before I evaluate the book by these criteria, I will first summarize its contents.
As its title indicates, the book is an encyclopedia or book containing the broad outlines of knowledge about the specific topic of women in higher education. What the title doesn't indicate is that the book is almost exclusively about women in higher education in the United States. Only one of the 100 entries or subtopics explicitly provides a comparative perspective, and it is only about women faculty. [End Page 712]
The book is divided into nine parts or general topics. The first five parts are Historical and Cultural Contexts, Gender Theory and the Academy, Feminism in the Academy, Women in the Curriculum, and Women and Higher Education Policy. The last four parts focus on specific groups of women: students, faculty, administrators, and employees or support staff. Each of the nine parts begins with an overview of the subtopics it covers, with the number of subtopics ranging from one in Women Employees to 30 in Women Students.
Most subtopics are free of references within the text and all include references, including some for additional reading, at their end. Sometimes only a handful of references are included; other times an extensive list is given. In theory all entry references is included in the bibliography although I read a few entries where this was not so. Also included in the encyclopedia are two appendices: an excellent one of resources for research on women's studies, and a list of women's colleges. The physical text is also enlivened from time to time with illustrations, mostly photographs of particular women or groups of women.
The various subtopics include a heavy focus on race/ethnicity, a more limited focus on sexual orientation and socioeconomic status, and only one nod to disabilities. Religious differences are addressed through coverage of Catholic and Southern Baptist Colleges, Jewish Students, and Leadership in Catholic Institutions. In the four sections that focus on specific groups of women, for example, students, each of the sections has an entry on African American, American Indian, Asian American, and Latina women.
Evaluating the value of this encyclopedia by the expertise of its authors and the nature of its references is somewhat problematic. The authors of the entries or contributors to the volume are listed in the book's front pages. There is a total of 121 contributors, most of whom are women. Other than their institutional affiliation, no information is given about the contributors, so the extent of their expertise on an entry is unclear...