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  • Louise Tilly in Intergenerational Perspective
  • Michael Hanagan (bio) and Mary Jo Maynes (bio)

Louise Tilly is noteworthy as an historian, a mentor, and a distiller of feminist thought. Her work covers a variety of fields. In the field of labor history she produced an important study of political contention in Italy, Politics and Class in Milan, 1881–1901, and, along with Charles and Richard Tilly, a widely influential study of collective action, The Rebellious Century (Tilly 1994; Tilly et al. 1975). Her most influential work is in the arena of women’s and family history, most notably Women, Work, and Family, a product of her collaboration with Joan Scott (Tilly and Scott 1978). She was also a member of the Panel on Women’s Work and Technology of the National Research Council, which produced a signal study of the evolution of women’s white collar work and its prospects, Computer Chips and Paper Clips: Technology and Women’s Employment, and she possessed a keen interest in the intersection between demographic and family history as shown in her coedited collection on European fertility decline (Gillis et al. 1992; National Research Council 1986). Before illness forced her to cease work, she was moving into global history where her most important contribution was her presidential address to the American Historical Association (AHA) that outlined a distinctive and original approach to world history (Tilly 1994).

Through her ideas and pedagogy, Louise Tilly inspired colleagues and younger scholars who, in turn, drew upon her work and teaching methods as they pursued their own careers. Today, Tilly’s intellectual legacy is apparent in the ongoing influence of her scholarship, but also in ongoing conversations across scholarly generations, through her students and her students’ students. Encountering more recent theoretical paradigms, her students have discarded some of her ideas while giving new emphasis or interpretation to others. This special section reconsiders Tilly’s legacies in an intergenerational framework, where cohorts defined by academic career position—graduate students, assistant professors, professors, and so forth—intersect with age cohorts shaped by a succession of intellectual and political influences.

Louise Tilly: Feminist and Social Scientist

Tilly’s feminist scholarship emerged when she was a young faculty member at Michigan State University and then the University of Michigan in the context of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, now known as “second-wave feminism.” An earlier “first-wave feminism” of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century focused largely on suffrage and legal hindrances to gender equality. In contrast, second-wave feminism increased the scope of feminist concerns to incorporate a wide range of social, class, family, and cultural issues. In a larger historiographical perspective, second-wave feminism coincided with the rise of the new social history, and, somewhat later, a new cultural history. [End Page 71]

Within this political and historiographical context Tilly’s scholarship was both field-changing and prescient. The publication in 1978 of Women, Work, and Family, coauthored with Joan Scott who was then a young professor at the University of North Carolina, took feminist history in new directions; it established a model for thinking about intersections between families and economies in Europe that emphasized the activities and historical agency of peasant and working-class women. In terms of both subject matter and method, Tilly and Scott implicitly criticized and went beyond the search for “great women” that had been all too prevalent among pioneering first-wave forays into women’s history. As Scott reminds us in her contribution to this section, the book also challenged what she and Tilly saw as politically limiting misperceptions circulating among many second-wave feminists: “Paid labor and emancipation,” Scott recalls, “may have been synonymous for some women in the twentieth century, but not for all—we wanted to write a history to demonstrate that. Feminist activists would benefit, we believed, from a more complex story about women’s work” (p. 114).

Women, Work, and Family played an important role in the move of feminist historians toward a new type of analysis of gender, especially in the context of emergent black feminist critiques of mainstream feminism for its inattention to race. The feminist theoretical discussions of the 1970s and 1980s...


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