Women and the Making of Modernity

Term: Fall 2011

Subject Code: GLIB

Course Number: 5826

This course examines the ambitions, struggles, and achievements of a group of Western women intellectuals that produced new knowledge that contributed to modern understanding. We begin with the pre-Enlightenment “Querelle des Femmes” which polarized responses to historical misogyny, Poullain de la Barre’s Cartesian argument that “the mind has no sex,” and the erratic diffusion of the idea of the “equality of the sexes.” We consider the explosion of print culture, the gendering of genre, and the publication success of fledgling female writers for a new audience of female readers. We study the emergence of Enlightenment feminists like Marie Madeleine Jodin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary Hays who interrogated the conversations of “canonical forefathers” on the subjects of virtue, power, and authority. We trace the ways Enlightenment feminisms were central to the “Revolution Debate” after 1789, and the gender conservatism that followed. We investigate the careers of Nineteenth Century public female intellectuals in light of emerging academic cultures of teaching and learning; the explosion of Science –including astronomy, birth control technology, and photography, and the impact of these innovations on gender dynamics. We investigate current perspectives on the silences and dialogues between male thinkers – Rousseau, Kant, Godwin, Nietzsche – and their female contemporaries. We celebrate the accomplishments of pioneering women, including Harriet Martineau, George Eliot, Anna Jameson, Hertha Ayerton, Marie Curie, and others. We assess women’s proposals for female education in light of their own experiences as autodidacts and amid pervasive social anxiety about learned women. We ask what opportunities did women create for themselves? Have these endured?

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