New course to explore women in history

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Photo courtesy of TNU Marketing

By Bailey Basham

A new course exploring women in history will make its debut in the fall.

Erica Hayden was hired last year as an assistant professor of history and felt that there was something missing from the curriculum. It didn’t take long before she was meeting with academic council with a new idea in her pocket.

After developing a new course with the help of her background in women’s history studies and presenting the addition to the academic council, Women’s Lives in American History was added as a regular addition to the history curriculum.

“A lot of the other upper level classes are all political and military based, and I wanted to add a social history course because that’s the way the field is going. We see a lot more social and cultural history, and I wanted to modernize the field so that students who are taking these classes could feel more well-rounded in their history degrees and in their pursuits of jobs,” said Hayden.

Hayden was always interested in social history, particularly the history of women’s experience. She took women’s history courses herself as a student at Juniata College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania.

As a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, she opted to examine the experiences of female criminals in the nineteenth century- women who generally weren’t documented in historical record.

“These weren’t the Susan B. Anthony’s or the Rosa Parks’s. These were just common women who stole a loaf of bread to feed their families and ended up in prison,” said Hayden. “I was just always fascinated with the stories of the common person because that’s what most of us are. It makes history come alive to relate to those stories, so I wanted to offer a class here that focused on the social history. What better way to do that than to talk about women’s experiences?”

Hayden felt that the expansion of the history program was important seeing as the field of history is dynamic and has continued to progress over most recent generations.

“It’s just been in the most recent decades that social history has become really important. Before that, you see a lot of political and military history, and while that is also important, and we can bring some social history into those classes, I wanted to offer something that was away from the major crises of American history and to look at the social side of things,” said Hayden. “It’s also important to consider the role of gender and to have a class that really considers women juxtaposed against the traditional narrative of American history that is generally so male-dominated.”

While much of the course will be dedicated to the consideration of the roles of women in history, it is open to any  students interested in joining the discussion and learning about the lives and times of such influential women.

“I think it lends itself to an interdisciplinary approach, and that’s why I’d like students outside of the history department to come in because a lot of the different academic disciplines can really bring different perspectives to women’s history,” said Hayden.

In order to delve so deeply into the history of women in America, Hayden says those in the class will be taking into consideration the male perspective as well.

“I want to be able to tell these stories about women and talk about their experiences, but we have to talk about them in context with the male experience because they are so interconnected. It’s not like we’re just going to be talking about women and never talking about men,” said Hayden. “To have some male perspective in the class would be great, so I hope we get a few.”

Because the women’s experience is so intrinsic to American history, the more study, consider, and learn about those perspectives, the better understanding students will have of their culture, she said.

“This kind of course is embedded in mainstream history, and I am thrilled to see Trevecca offer something from the perspective of the woman. There are commonalities in the way women and men experience history, but they are still very different,” said Lena Welch, dean of the school of arts and sciences.

The course will be offered in the fall and students are signing up for it now during registration.

“I’m really excited to learn about the women that helped create the foundation of society that we get to experience today, and to get a better understanding of what it was like to be woman during the development of the United States,” said history major Ileta Galau. “Women’s history is not one we get to learn about often, and I think it’s important because history was not made just by those whose faces we remember, but by the collection of experiences from everyone that has lived before us.”

The importance of a women’s history course goes hand in hand with that of representation and avoiding the erasure of such largely influential and contributive historical groups, said Hayden.

“I think learning about those great men who developed our nation is certainly important, but women are really foundational to the United States as well,” said Hayden. “We learn about the presidents, and we learn about the inventors, and a lot of them are males, so we need to learn about how women helped develop our society as well. To understand where we are today, we have to look at the past and the importance of women’s roles.”

This course will be a part of the two year cycle, and will be offered in the fall of odd years beginning in 2015.

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