Day 1 at the Berks: Let the Receptions Begin

June 13, 2008, 3:43 am

Today was reception after reception after reception, since most of the action doesn’t start until tomorrow. We were received at 4:00 by Feminist Studies, where longtime editor Claire Moses stood up on a table and recounted for all of us the history of the journal and the history of the journal’s presence at the Berkshire Conference: it went on for a while, and occasionally the babble of the crowd would get too loud and someone would tell everyone to hush so we could listen to Claire’s speech. Part of what was being said on my side of the room was several of us realizing that we had had our first articles published in FS. So lost was I in that nostalgic moment that I admit I didn’t hear much of the rest, except that the editors have very beautiful notebooks with designs from old FS issues on them that they are selling at the conference. They are also making the entire run of FS available on the internet, which is very fabulous. Part of the talking problem is that Thursday evening at the Berks is always more or less where people find each other, confirm dates for later in the weekend, say hello, exchange information about their vital signs, how many parents they have left and whether they got tenure/a job/married/pregnant/a book contract.

Claire was still up on the table when I left. I was more than anxious as to how she would get down, because I know I wouldn’t be able to get down from a high table with my knees in the shape they are, so I beetled off to the Town Hall Beer garden with my entourage instead and left the worrying to others.

After dinner, there was a plenary on “The Changing (?) Status of Women in the Historical Profession.” Can we say “glass ceiling?” I won’t recount the details, but suffice to say that the Radical ran into the author of the AHA’s Lunbeck report at registration earlier in the day, and she didn’t plan to report good developments in the three years since her findings were published. And I am not so sure that the issue is entirely a question of women being hired, but rather what the conditions of labor are after you are hired. Practically every woman I talked to over the age of 45 — including the author of the Lunbeck Report — was either serving as a department chair, or getting ready to serve as a chair, or doing some other administrative job.

But there is some good news, news that I have known about for a while. A group of scholars associated with the Berkshire Conference have organized in the past several months to collect a rather large sum of money to endow an article prize named for Mary Maples Dunn, godmother to the Radical (true), colonial historian and authority on William Penn, former professor of History at Bryn Mawr College, former President of Smith, former Director of the Schlesinger Library, former acting Dean of the Radcliffe Institute, and — with her husband Richard Dunn — former co-executive officer of the American Philosophical Society. The endowment was announced at the end of the panel and — astonishingly, since it was all over the internet and many people had given money, including my mother, who was Mary’s grad school roommate at Bryn Mawr, hence the godmother thing) — the secret had been successfully kept from Mary! This is because, as she explained to me, she does not spend her time reading everything available on her computer screen as I do. The fundraisers were all over the various early American listserves and networks so the jig would have been up if Mary were a blogger. At the dessert reception afterwards (co-sponsored by the Berks, the Coordinating Council of Women Historians, the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, and the Western Association of Women’s Historians) she was still a little bowled over and very happy.

Finally — before bed — because an old graduate school buddy is running that committee, I also know who won the Berks annual article prize. But that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Come to the opening ceremony and keynote tomorrow at Ted Mann Concert Hall to find out.

Crossposted at Cliopatria.

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