The Southern Association for Women Historians (SAWH) recently held its 11th Triennial Conference at The University of Alabama’s campus, June 7-10, 2018. Professors, public historians, graduate students, and individuals interested in history all gathered together in Tuscaloosa for four days of invigorating conversation, thought-provoking plenaries and panels, and inspiring workshops centered around this year’s theme of “Resistance, Power, and Accommodation: Women and Southern History.” The University’s excellent facilities also provided a positive and supportive environment for colleagues to reunite and gave many new members the opportunity to make new friends and connections.
A few of the conference highlights included the Thursday night plenary roundtable entitled “Women Knowing History in Public,” featuring Karin Wulf, Director of the Omohundra Institute of Early American History and the Culture at the College of William & Mary and Nicole Hemmer from the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, with Anne Sarah Rubin from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County as moderator. Hemmer’s opening presentation noted that “being a woman knowing history in public is still a radical idea,” revealing a larger theme that would be affirmed all weekend. Participants were encouraged to find out more about the initiative led by Wulf and Hemmer at https://womenalsoknowhistory.com/
After this opening session, attendees enjoyed a welcome dinner catered by Jim N’ Nick’s Barb-B-Q at Smith Hall.
Friday’s events began with a morning workshop entitled “Marking your Mark—Getting Started as a Publicly Engaged Scholar,” which included Nicole Hemmer and Karin Wulf, as well as Department chair Dr. Joshua Rothman, and UA’s Chris Bryant and Olivia Anne Hodges. The day’s concurrent sessions covered themes of Gender, Race, Dress, Resistance and Power in the American South. Graduate students from a variety of universities engaged in a helpful Roundtable lunch conducted by UA’s Lesley J. Gordon, Sarah E. Gardner from Mercer University, Margaret Storey from Depaul University, and former University of Alabama M.A. student and current NYU doctoral student, Briana Royster. The panelists discussed gender bias, hurdles faced by women in the academic field, and offered graduate students valuable advice on how to tackle these issues. Friday night’s plenary featured Brown University’s Françoise Hamlin’s presentation “Fifty Years Since Coming of Age in Mississippi: Finding Anne Moody.” Hamlin’s talk was a poignant reminder of the sometimes-traumatic effects the fight for Civil Rights left on its activists, particularly black women. Later that evening Auburn University’s History Department, The University of Alabama Graduate School, and the University of Georgia Department of History co-sponsored an exclusive Graduate Student Reception at Five Restaurant in Downtown Tuscaloosa. It was a wonderful opportunity for Graduate students to come together, share experiences, and make lasting friendships.
Catherine Clinton from the University of Texas at San Antonio, kicked off Saturday’s events with a workshop on her newly founded “Cassandra Project,” an initiative to create an outreach support group to “promote awareness of how to resist rape culture, decrease sexual and gender violence, and raise issues of accountability in work environments on college and university campuses for both students and faculty across the South.” Another highlight of the conference was Cindy Jones leading attendees on the “Hallowed Grounds” walking tour of campus, created by UA’s Hilary Green, demonstrating the centrality of slavery to UA’s campus. Danielle L. McGuire from Wayne State University gave Saturday night’s deeply moving keynote address entitled: “Writing to Change the World: Recy Taylor, Rosa Parks, and Why History Matters.” McGuire shared the experience of researching Recy Taylor’s civil rights story, but, perhaps more powerfully, she assured the audience of the lasting impact their historical work can have. For example, McGuire has since become a close family friend of the Taylors, and because of her research Recy’s story has garnered widespread attention (most recently, Taylor’s story was mentioned during Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes). After hearing the account of Recy Taylor and the effect that McGuire’s work has had, current University of Alabama M.A. student, La-Kisha Emmanuel, responded via Twitter that she “felt a sense of reassurance that I must continue recovering voices of black women because they matter and can change the world.”
The 11th Triennial SAWH Conference ended Sunday morning on a high note and the positive energy did not dissipate as the conference came to a close. After enjoying a final farewell breakfast, guests heard concurrent sessions involving Gender and the Civil War, Southern women’s approaches to activism, and women’s strong presence in the Civil Rights Movement. In their roundtable “Defining the Field of Battle: Gender and the Civil War,” participants Judy Giesberg from Villanova University, Independent Scholar Lisa Frank, Amy Murrell Taylor from the University of Kentucky, Barbara Gannon, University of Central Florida, Joseph Beilein from Penn State, offered new ways to investigate, write about, and teach both the battlefield and the home front. Giesberg noted that the soldier camps should be examined as an extension of the personal, familial, and intimate experiences of the household, while Taylor maintained that black women be reconsidered as agents of change among the larger combat apparatus of the war.
Attendee Ramona Houston summarized the feeling of many when she tweeted that participants enjoyed “it all–sessions, plenaries, workshops and connecting with other women historians. Wonderful event!” The informational conversations, mentoring and networking between participants at the conference left attendees eager to go out and conduct good scholarship and spread the word that “women also know history!”
The Department of History thanks its co-sponsors including UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, UA’s Graduate School, the Charles G. Summersell Chair of Southern History, the Frances Summersell Center for the Study of the South, Auburn University’s Department of History, University of Georgia’s Department of History, Jason’s Deli, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports, and The University of Alabama Press. A special thanks to Sea Talantis and Lauren Lewis from the Bryant Conference Center, SAWH program chair Anne Sarah Rubin, as well as Christina Kircharr, and many UA graduate students, all who contributed to the SAWH Conference’s success.