In the introduction to her classic volume of essays, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (Oxford: 1986), Carroll Smith-Rosenberg wrote:
The Berkshire Conference of Women Historians has proved one of the pivotal influences in my professional and personal life. Through both formal and informal comments on a succession of papers, Berkshire members have contributed to my development as a woman historian and as a historian of women.
So Sisters, the triennial gathering of the tribe is about to begin. By tonight, participants in the 15th Berkshire Conference on the History of Women will have begun to assemble for this year’s event, “Generations: Exploring Race, Sexuality, and Labor across Time and Space.” The conference begins on Thursday June 9 and ends on Sunday, a day devoted to seminar-style discussions organized around papers submitted in advance. Undecided? Living nearby and thinking of dropping in for the day? On site registrations are welcome. Click here for all the information you need. Congratulations to president Kathleen Brown, her program chairs, and everyone else who worked hard to put this together. By this time Thursday, you will all be watching it unfold before you. As a former program chair, let me say that is a glorious feeling. (And Sue Porter Benson? I miss you tonight.)
What follows are some common questions and answers as you pack your suitcases.
Should I network? Yes and no. If you are a younger scholar, you should always be networking. On the other hand, one of the beautiful things about the Berks is a sociability unmarred by icky things like job interviews, editorial board meetings, recruiting, being a dignified senior person blah, blah, blah. My advice is that you should take this as an opportunity to make friends: I have made nearly all my best friends in the historical profession through the Berkshire Conference, and let me tell you, being funny is a higher value than being smart. One of my favorite Berks memories is being in a hotel room with my team and some random graduate students that we had picked up somewhere. A former undergrad, now a prize-winning professor, showed up with — well, I guess there’s no other way to put it: weed. Anyhoo. We all inhaled, and what followed was a game of charades in which we made the grad students guess who our dissertation advisers were!
OK, you had to be there. My point is: if you have the choice between trying to make an impression on someone by buying them a drink or telling them about your research, you know what to do.
Are men welcome? Humans of all genders are welcome: I don’t think Tom Dublin has missed a Berkshire Conference since I was a tiny Radical pecking hir way out of the egg. Tom and his partner, women’s history legend Kathryn Kish Sklar will be recruiting for their web-based project, “Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000,” so if you see one of them walk by, tell them you’re interested, and say that Tenured Radical sent you. Other male-bodied folk to keep your eyes out for are Shane Landrum of Cliotropic fame (who is on a great state of the field roundtable on transgender history on Saturday at 3:30); Robert Beachy, who has a forthcoming book on gay Berlin (do I see Joan Scott as a comment on that global heteronormativities panel?); political science prof Paisley Currah, who is presenting in a Sunday seminar on his hot project about pregnant men; and many more. OK, well a dozen more, actually. So this will be practically the only place where history is practiced that men will find themselves in a distinct minority, which is one reason — if you are a cool feminist man — to attend.
What should I wear? I am the wrong person to ask, as anyone who knows me would testify. As I write, my black tee shirts are neatly piled across the room next to two pairs of jeans and a pair of black cowboy boots (received just in time, since I mistook the re-heeling shoe bag for the “Please take me to Good Will” shoe bag.) Coats and ties are not necessary, although I shall bring a tie and a formal shirt just in case it cools down in time for for my own panel (Saturday at 1:15, with Jane Gerhard, Carolyn Bronstein and Vivien Fryd.) The ethic is summer casual: there’s no need to look “professional,” in the conventional sense, and don’t wear anything that is going to be ruined by sitting in the grass, blowing off the panel you were going to attend, and talking to a new friend.
Also recommended for this weekend? Sunglasses, sunscreen, a broad-brimmed hat, sandals, and dancing shoes for the Saturday night shindig. If you are staying in a place that is not air-conditioned, purchase a small fan on your way in from the airport. There are plenty of places to shop in the vicinity, but be warned: the UMass campus is a good hike from the town of Amherst itself.
Will I find a girlfriend at the Berks? I can’t guarantee this, but it is true that some nineteenth century Seven Sisters-y thing kicks in at the Berkshire Conference, even (or especially) among the non-Sapphicly inclined. If you do not have a girlfriend already, it is, in fact, likelier that you will find a girlfriend at the Berks than anywhere else you have been or ever will be.
It is highly unlikely — although not impossible, I suppose — that you will find a boyfriend at this conference.
Registration opens at 8:30 AM tomorrow in the campus center, is open until 8:00 PM and the program starts at 3:30. Yowzah! I’m partial to round tables, and will be choosing between the following tomorrow:
“New Generations of Feminist Legal History,” which features some great new research by Leigh Ann Wheeler on the ACLU’s fight for sexual freedom in the 20th century.
“Peyton Place: Selling Sex and Crafting Readers,” with Ardis Cameron who wrote a preface for a brand new edition of the novel that became a synonym for small, petty
history departments New England towns.