Honored as a Founder of the Field of American Women Writers
Fetterley was honored as a founder of the field of American women writers at the first international conference of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW) in San Antonio, Texas, Feb. 14-17. Fetterley, who holds a joint appointment in the departments of Women’s Studies and English and is associate dean of Undergraduate Studies, also gave a keynote address to a packed ballroom. The conference was attended by more than 300 people.
“I began my work on 19th century American women writers in January of 1980 during a semester sabbatical,” she told the group.
“Those were the days when in order to have access to the texts of 19th century American women writers you had to Xerox them. Those were the days before there were any reprints, any series. When I began my work, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of texts by 19th century American women in print and available for classroom use. And those were the days when the only work by a 19th century American woman to appear in the standard anthologies was the poetry of Emily Dickinson,” Fetterley said.
“And those were also the days when the project of recovery seemed intrinsically valuable and when it offered work sufficient for any single lifetime. Those were the days that for me produced the Rutgers University Press American Women Writers series; the Northeast 19th century American women writers study group, a sort of proto SSAWW; and the 1996 Hartford conference. Those were the days that produced Provisions, the Norton Anthology of American Women Regionalists, and now, finally, Locating Regionalism, the critical book about the material contained in the Norton anthology.
“Those were the days when it was possible to have a plan and a map, to believe that you knew what needed to be done and the order in which it should happen, and to believe as well that you, understood collectively, could do it. Things are perhaps different now, not better or worse, but different, and if they are different now that is so precisely because of the work that emerged from this historical moment.”
Fetterley, a Collins Fellow, said that the dream of the Rutgers University Press American Women Writers series, which she co-edited with Joanne Dobson and Elaine Showalter, was “to provide in one collectible bookshelf all the significant texts of prose fiction produced by American women in the 19th century. Simply line them up in sequence and one could ‘read’ the history of the field. Actually read them and one would know everything she needed to know to be an ‘expert’ in the field. A noble dream, I think, however innocent it now may seem. It was recovery made visible. . . volumes that could be held in the hand and offered up as proof that women writers had existed in 19th century America.”
Fetterley continued, “The category of ‘woman writer’ has more meaning for the 19th century than for earlier or later periods. Early American literature by itself forms a somewhat stigmatized subset of the larger field of American literature and those who work on this material may well find that ‘early’ is more pro-ductive of identity politics than ‘women.’ On the other hand, by the 20th century, so runs the hope, women writers are sufficiently integrated into the field of American literature that gender no longer serves as the primary diacritical mark and categories such as ‘modernist’ or ‘avant garde’ emerge as more significant. But for the 19th century, then and now, the category ‘woman writer’ remains productive of identity politics.”
Complicating the picture is the hierarchy of genre in American literature.
“The novel occupies the highest rung on the ladder of genres, the sketch form occupies one of the lowest. It was, after all, hardly accidental that Henry Louis Gates could turn Our Nig [by Harriet Wilson] into a best seller simply by declaring it to be a novel rather than an autobiography or, heaven forfend, a series of sketches,” she said.
Fetterley continued, “The project of recovery begun so boldly in 1980 became rather quickly criss-crossed by contradiction, interrupted by crises of self-confidence, and frequently brought to a dead halt by the problems quite literally of how to speak - how to construct a voice, how to create a discourse, how to develop a frame, how to establish a point of view and a mode of approach.”
Her goal was ambitious. “I wanted nothing less than to change the map of American literature so that women might be included in it as determinative and foundational. A goal this ambitious, however, comes entangled in its own contradictions . . . To put it simply, if a minor and stigmatized text becomes major and revered, how can it continue to do the work of opposition and resistance?”
She noted, “Audre Lorde has said that the master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house. But it may also be true that without the master’s tools we may find it difficult to construct a compelling alternative edifice. Many of the tools used to create the field of American literature have now themselves been dismantled - for example, the construct of the author, the approaches to reading defined as new criticism, and thematic criticism - those ploughshares have been turned into swords and are used against our work, but they are not turned upon the original building which remains intact, as witness the permanence of Hawthorne. The storms of deconstructive theory may swirl around this building but they will not shake its foundation, for that foundation was built by tools the masters have destroyed perhaps for very fear of the uses to which they might be put.”
She concluded, “It is my deepest hope and dearest wish that those who now ‘come after’ will have every bit as much fun as those of us who ‘went before’ but will not have to pay so high a price.”
Libraries Celebrate Two Millionth Volume April 5
Phyllis Franklin, executive director of the Modern Language Association, and Blanche W. Cook, distinguished professor of History and Women’s Studies at John Jay College, will serve as guest speakers. UAlbany President Karen R. Hitchcock will also be on hand to provide remarks.
“Even as we move rapidly to develop the virtual library, the physical book remains vital to the process of scholarly communication,” said Distinguished Librarian Meredith Butler, dean and director of Libraries. “The Libraries have been pleased this year to offer Albany’s students and faculty the opportunity to celebrate the freedom to read, speculate on the likely future of the book as physical artifact, examine the book as art object, conjecture about the place of the book in the library of the future, and learn more about current issues in scholarly communication and intellectual property from internationally acclaimed speakers.”
In addition to being a celebration, the event is designed to reflect on the lasting importance of books as transmitters of knowledge and to recognize the key role of UAlbany faculty as authors, scholars and supporters of the University Libraries.
The gala marks the end of a year-long series of events which included lectures, exhibits, and film festivals.
Student Gives Ancient Weddings a High-Tech Look
“[I was] very surprised. It was a very big deal, especially surprising because I don’t study classics anymore, so that was just the icing on the cake,” said Powers. She earned the award after Wendy Owens, a former colleague and friend, found Powers’ paper on her Web site and submitted it to AbleMedia. Powers may not be studying classics anymore, but she tutored Latin for a while. “I will always love classics; [I] read historical fiction and try to get it in other ways,” she said.
Powers’ ancient weddings paper, a thorough investigation of the history and different types of Greek and Roman wedding ceremonies, was done for her classics master’s thesis at Tufts University. She is currently a last-semester Ph.D. student at UAlbany, working on her dissertation titled Trust in Interorganizational Relationships, a study of how networks of organizations share information and the trust that develops within that network. In her dissertation, she also studies the interaction and sharing of information among a network of New York state and local agencies and private homeless services providers.
Although her thesis and dissertation may not appear related, her interest in the latter derives from her research of the former. “At Tufts I worked with a group of universities using Perseus, which brings together all sorts of information and people. That’s where my interest in information science came from,” said Powers.
According to her research, a 14-year-old Greek girl would typically marry a 30-year-old Greek man; men were significantly older because they usually did not marry until they completed their military service. Arranged marriages were customary, with the girl “obliged to marry whomever her kyrios, male guardian, decided upon.” The political and economic benefits of the union were her guardian’s main concern in choosing her husband. As a result, marriages were often created to form alliances between noble families or to consolidate the family’s wealth by marrying within the family.
A wife was also obtained by winning her in a competition or “stealing her as booty.” Sexual attraction was rarely a reason for marriage. Regardless of how women were brought into the marriage, society expected them to be faithful to their husbands and bear their legitimate children.
The ceremonies lasted three days. “They focused on the bride’s passage to marriage and her sexual initiation,” said Powers. After the marriage, separation from the oikos, a transition to a new home, and integration into a new role as a daughter and wife within a new oikos, were the three phases of a girl’s life. Feminine identity also changed as women got married. First, they were regarded as a parthenos (a maiden), then a nymphe (a married woman without children), and finally, after giving birth to her first child, a gyne (an adult with children).
AlbeMedia is a global management and technology consulting firm that provides universities, high schools, and other educational industries with technology support services. The firm’s Web site also offers teachers and students free Internet tools to enhance the teaching of classics. Through this site they can access the Classics Technology Center (CTC). It has many features that aid teachers and students in their classics information search, including the CTCWeb Consortium.
Through the CTCWeb Consortium, research, experiences, and curriculum materials can be shared among educators and students from more than 70 countries. For example, lab and out-of-class assignments, syllabi, and advice on classics education, for both high school and college levels, are submitted to and stored in the site’s repository.
Powers says she does not use AbleMedia as much since she no longer studies classics in that capacity; however, she gets e-mails from students and teachers around the world who use her Web site and research as a study tool or information guide to the classics. “I got an e-mail from a couple who just got married and recreated an ancient wedding; I thought that was so cool. Anything that can bring people together with classics, especially in the classroom, is a benefit. If it’s a place where we can get cutting-edge ideas that we can’t get anywhere else, it’s great,” she said.
These e-mails still mean a lot to Powers because they show her that her interest and information are of use to other people. “It’s more gratifying because I’m not just writing for myself,” she said.
Powers also works as a free-lance graphic designer. After completing her information science Ph.D., Powers plans to enter either the education field or consulting.
For more information on Powers’ research and Greek Weddings visit her homepage at www.albany.edu/~jg1297 or click on www.AbleMedia.com/CTCWeb for submission and retrieval of classics material.