Roundtable Changing the Narrative: Linda K. Kerber and Evolving Histories of Women and the State

AHA Session 209
Coordinating Council for Women in History 5
Saturday, January 5, 2013: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Preservation Hall, Studio 2 (New Orleans Marriott)
Christopher Tomlins, University of California, Irvine
Eileen Boris, University of California, Santa Barbara
Heather Miyano Kopelson, University of Alabama
Yvonne M. Pitts, Purdue University
Sharon Elizabeth Romeo, University of Alberta
Molly Tambor, Long Island University

Session Abstract

In May 2012, Linda Kerber will retire from her position as May Brodbeck Professor in the Liberal Arts, Professor of History, and Lecturer in Law at the University of Iowa.  Although her students are organizing an October 2012 conference in Iowa City to honor her career, her influence on legal history, women’s history, and the historical profession merits celebration in a wider forum.  She is a recent past president of the AHA, and so AHA 2013 offers a fitting place to have this discussion.  It fits into the theme of “Lives, Places, Stories” in multiple ways.  Kerber’s scholarship has taught us that stories about women’s lives not only exist in places that seem to be gender neutral, but that those stories are essential to understanding those places.  Her life and work as a woman historian has been part of changing the profession and the experiences of subsequent generations of historians, of making a place for women’s history and woman historians.

This roundtable proposes to take up the relationship between narrative, women’s history, and the state on three different levels:  first, a consideration of historical changes in women’s relationship to the state in its various forms; second, an examination of how studying the specifics of those changes alters the larger narrative about gender and the state; and third, a meditation on how Kerber’s work in its many forms has reached far beyond her own topics of research and has been a key part in the current evolution of women’s history.  Each presenter will keep to a brief presentation that sketches out some part of her own research and reflects on how Kerber’s scholarship and mentorship has affected it.  The chair and panelists include two long-time colleagues and friends whose work has intersected with hers in the law and in the history of women and the state; three of her former students at the University of Iowa; and one historian of Italian women and citizenship who was not a direct student but whose work has been influenced first by her scholarship and then by her mentoring. We hope that these prepared comments will provoke much audience participation regarding Kerber’s effects on their own work, and anticipate that the subjects will be a vivid demonstration—a performance, if you will—of the breadth and depth of her influence on the historical profession.

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