One of Those Times

One element of my job is to travel to conferences–conferences that I have a hand in organizing–that promote continued conversation about Church-related higher education.  I am at one right now.  Currently, there are sixteen new (ish) graduate students in the humanities discussing with a few established scholars the future of Christian Humanism.  As the conference is for their benefit, I have excused myself to give them the space to talk and exchange ideas.  This is one of those times when my every-day professional life falls squarely in the administrative category.  It is an odd thing to go from being the conference attendee to the conference organizer.

I feel I must pause here to qualify how much organizing I actually do.  I do some (I make a heck of colorful handout/guide) and thanks to my teaching experience I am capable of standing in front of a group of people and welcome them, provide some direction, and talk about the program at hand without turning scarlet.  My voice doesn’t quake either.  That being said, I am not the sole planner and organizer.

But, as I was saying, it is interesting to transition from the one sitting in the chairs to the one behind the scenes.  It might be a similar transition from student to teacher.  It is equally interesting to realize (and be happy about that realization) that I have moved on to a new and professional space from that of graduate student.  We work and work and work, head down, moving forward, and we don’t see where we are or how far we have traveled.  (By we, I mean I.  How far I have traveled.)    This is not to say that I am satisfied with where I am, but I am grateful that I am no longer where they (those grad students) are.   I suppose I must now incorporate phrases like “when I was in graduate school…” and “back in my day…” into every day conversation.  Gosh, that will be tedious.

More from the Archives

Over the last week or so, I have gone again to the archives to do some more fill-in-the-blank research and I returned once again to records that were created after my birth.   I also looked a few things prior to entrance into the world and possibly I dawdled here a few minutes longer than I needed, but it was just so interesting!  Much of what I examined today and last week had to do with sponsorship.  For anyone doing history of women religious post Vatican II (and post the serious drop-off in numbers of sisters due to lack of vocations and, well, death), sponsorship is a familiar subject.  The tricky thing here is that when a religious congregation sponsors something it can involve canon and civil law, ministries, politics, institutions, theology, and then a whole host of group dynamics and a myriad of “isms.”  So, writing about said sponsorship in a coherent and concise manner is a tad challenging.

Women religious throughout American history have provided the labor and administration of schools, hospitals, orphanages, homes for women, and countless welfare organizations.  They built real brick and mortar institutions right along side the local parish priest and bishop throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century.  Skipping over a great deal of detail, by the 1970s, many religious congregations evolved to give their members the freedom to discern what their ministry should be.  Coupling that with real decline in membership, congregations like the Mercys I have studied withdrew from their “traditional” ministries.  (I use the quotes because those traditional ministries didn’t really change, they just looked a bit different.  They were still in the business of education, health care, and care of women and children,  just — different.)

Congregations like the Mercys are/were invested in those institutions and those ministries.  Leaving or withdrawing personnel from them is always difficult.  Sponsorship of an institution that was once owned by a religious community is a means of maintaining the charism of that institution.   All that aside, what I have found most remarkable about this is the prayerful consideration and deliberation over how the community as a whole would proceed.  Religious congregations definitely renewed their government following Vatican II.  They went from a top-down process with little room (or permission) to discuss much, to fully embracing the principles of subsidiarity.  Following Vatican II, the decision making became much more local and democratic.  Leadership exists and acts for the larger community, but often after a lengthy discussion process.

Well, another good day in the archives completed.  I will not be back for a bit.  I will have to save up the memory of these days to sustain me until the next time.  Between now and then, I will don my administrator-like hat and turn my attention to organizing, directing, updating, writing an address, and not to mention creating attractive handouts.  I must be social, have conversations with people that do not involve words like historiography, archives, and nuns, and generally be interested in what they are doing (she said with a note of sarcasm).

A Little Fresh Air: A Nun on NPR

Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) was on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air on NPR today.  You can listen to the podcast here.  Sister Farrell addresses many of the questions and concerns the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s Assessment of the LCWR.  This is definitely worth a listen.

What strikes me is that Farrell speaks as a woman who became a part of a religious congregation as the changes of Vatican II were being implemented.  She was part of the process of renewal, as a newly professed woman.  (This is what she talks about towards the end of the interview.)  A great deal of pain and emotion comes through her quiet yet firm voice.  She also is quite adept in dodging Terry Gross’ attempts to make her say something “radical” and inflammatory.   This does not mean the Farrell does not answer questions in a straight forward manner.  For those who have read correspondence and other papers written prior to Vatican II by women religious, you will observe a certain deferential tone in their words.  There is a manner to writing styles that feeds the “good sisters” identity.  This was not the reality of women religious’ lives and identities, but more often their mode of negotiating with male hierarchy.  Vatican II changed all that.   There is nothing unfriendly and hostile in Sister Pat Farrell’s words on Fresh Air today, just direct.  No one can be left with any dobut that the LCWR is hurt, bothered, and frustrated the CDF’s Assessment.

You can read more about recent developments and other stories on today’s SisterNews posting.

Battlefield and Beyond: A New Book Dedicated to a Wonderful Historian and Valued Mentor

When I began this blog, I said I would shamelessly promote the work of my friends.

The other day, a book arrived on our doorstep.  It is my husband, Michael J. Connolly‘s copy of a book to which he contributed and the publisher finally sent it.  It is The Battlefield and Beyond: Essays on the American Civil War, edited by our friend, Clayton E. Jewett.  While it is super that my husband has published a chapter in this new volume, what made the arrival of this collection of essays on the American Civil War thrilling is that the entire project is dedicated to Jon L. Wakelyn, mentor to my husband in graduate school.  He has continued to act in this capacity since Michael graduated.  (He even takes an interest in my work, and I am just the wife.)  The book was unveiled prior to publication at the Southern Historical Association conference in Baltimore last October.  (It was a surprise to Dr. Wakelyn!)

I have not had a chance to read all of the book.  I have looked at Michael’s chapter, of course.  When the book arrived, I examined it from cover to back (it is a good looking volume–nice dust jacket, with as you can see decent cover art).  I looked through the table of contents and saw our friends (Clayton and another wonderful historian, Kenneth Nivison) and those who have been friends of Dr. Wakelyn.  I read the acknowledgement and the last chapter, “Jon L. Wakelyn’s Contribution,” by Jane Turner Censer Rosemarie Zagarri.

What struck me as I was reading all of these things is the lasting impact Dr. Wakelyn has had on his friends, colleagues, and students–as a historian, a mentor, and friend.  When I began my Ph.D. studies at The Catholic University of America, Dr. Wakelyn was about to start a position at Kent State University, and I did not take any classes with him.  Through my connection with Michael, who I met at CUA, I have been included (in part) in the circle of Wakelyn’s Students who were his last graduate students at my program.  (I had my own group of fellow dissertators.) Everything that is said of Dr. Wakelyn’s mentoring and friendship in The Battlefield and Beyond is absolutely true.   He doggedly encourages his former students’ work and champions their success.   Nothing is more enjoyable than a few hours gathered with Dr. Wakelyn, catching up, talking about our respective history projects, arguing religion and politics, and discussing used bookstores, food, and wine.

As I said, I have not had a chance to read all of the essays.  Louisiana State University Press’s website lists some advanced praise for the book:

Advance Praise for The Battlefield and Beyond

“An impressive range of scholarship and intellectual interests has placed Jon Wakelyn among the most productive and influential historians and teachers of his generation.  Here, Clayton Jewett and the talented group of scholars he has assembled offer studies that do justice to the breadth and depth of Wakelyn’s work by offering fresh insights, notably on the critical intersections of biography with social, military, and political history.”—Eugene D. Genovese, author of Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made

“A fascinating collection of essays celebrating the career of one of the Civil War’s leading scholars, The Battlefield and Beyond illustrates the exceedingly high quality of the current work in the field.”—Brian D. McKnight, author of Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia

You can read more about the book at LSU and you can check out the table of contents here.  Go read the book.  Better yet, go buy the book and read it.  Then buy more copies and give it to all your friends.  (This would be the shameless part of the plug for my friends’ scholarship.)

Productivity Archival Style

Today was a good day.  I spent about five hours in an archives doing some research to fill in some gaps for my book.  I will have to come back again, but that is fine by me.  I love doing research.  Research is addictive.  There is always another box to open, another file to skim, and definitely another document to photocopy (if one is so lucky).  Today, I found myself getting lured into folders and boxes that would be interesting to examine, but not pertinent to my current research goals. I kept thinking, “I can use this.  I can go back to that one section and clarify, beef it up, make my argument more compelling.”  Ahh… this is a trap.  One must steel oneself against such temptations.  I must keep time-on-task!*

I am doing my best to flesh out my last chapter.  The time period of this chapter is the 1980s to 2008.  It is shockingly current and makes my historian soul shudder.  This cannot be right?  Can it?  I remember the 1980s…  The other troublesome thing is that there is just so much documentation.  Who would think a historian would complain about having too many sources?  It is true.  Because the ravages of time have not beset the documentation from this section of my study, and because the records have been preserved by people more mindful of keep their history, there is a lot of stuff to wade through: some good, some bad, and the worst yet, some whose usefulness is far from clear.  Maybe it will be helpful, someday.  Should I photocopy?  Should I take notes?  Quite the dilemma that does not get the job done.

And this leads me to an important tip to all novice researchers.  Keeping a notebook, journal, or Word document for all you kids out there with your texting and all that jazz of what you have examined and what you hope to study as you go through your research is a nice tool, one I did not learn soon enough.  Another helpful thing for me is to fully document at least once in your notes the citation of your sources.  That’s right, put footnotes in your notes.   Another good one is write on the back of your photocopies (or in pencil if you have double sided them) the reference.  Nothing is more maddening than going back to cite this fabulous primary document and you haven’t the foggiest idea where you got it.  It will save you an embarrassing correspondence to the archivist or librarian begging for their assistance.  Not that I have ever had to do that.  Of course not.

Everyone has to develop their own research style.  I have developed mine over low these twenty years (has it been that long?) since I started graduate work.  (I knew squat during undergrad.  I shudder at my stupidity.)  And you will think you have found the best way to do it and something will come along that will make it all the more easy.  (Where would I be without my laptop?  Still handwriting my notes on legal pads, that’s where!)

There is nothing like a good day in the archives to get one excited and enthusiastic for the craft of history.  I have a short stack of new photocopies and some notes.  I will be back to do more next week, but for now, I am content.

*At one point in my life, I studied education theory.  Hands down, one of the best phrases I ever learned was “time-on-task.”  It is no “self-fulfilling prophecy,” but what is?  It is nearly as good as the one I picked up in grad school: “that works on many levels.”  Priceless.

“Who Can Find a Virtuous Woman?”: or How are women valued in twenty-first-century American society?

Recently, the question of women’s status, their success, and whether or not women can have it all has made it back into the news cycle.  Ann-Marie Slaughter in the July/August issue of the Atlantic moved this issue back into the forefront of American media (not that answering this question hasn’t been on many women’s minds all along).  Since second-wave feminism attempted to answer this question in the 1970s, the media periodically drags out this question and dusts it off, on morning shows, in breezy articles in women’s magazines, and frightfully on prime time news programs.  There is no good answer to this question.  Women and men who say women cannot have a successful career and a fulfilling family at the same time are demonized as anti-women and those who say that they can are often believed to be fooling themselves.  Or they are privileged women who have a lot of help.  Or both.  The trouble is when we start having this debate (again and again and again) it is difficult to tell whether we get anywhere.  Or if something else pops up to distract our attention elsewhere.

The most reasoned statement on women having it all I have read lately is this one by Kristin van Ogtrop, who is the managing editor of Real Simple and author of the blog, Adventures in Chaos.  Van Ogtrop correctly identifies that men never seem to have to answer this question.  They are not judged in the same way as being good fathers or husbands by how much time they spend with their children.  Often men are celebrated for doing the very things that women are condemned for (i.e. bringing children to work, taking personal time when children are sick).  It’s all a mess.  Add to that race and class and it gets even messier.  Who is actually having this debate?  It is most often white upper middle class women who have a degree of economic security.  About eight years ago, Caitlin Flannagan published an article in The Atlantic, “How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement: Dispatches from the Nanny Wars,” which reviewed several books new books at the time dealing with working mothers.  Flannagan pointed out that economically successful  working mothers had their success because they had hired a nanny or a housekeeper.  (And my how she was vilified for her article!) The suggestion in 2004 and again in 2012 is that if a woman works full time in a demanding job, something will fall through the cracks in other aspects of her life (home, family, personal life).

Laura Essig brings this question of class and race to the discussion as well in her recent post for the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, Brainstorm.  In her essay, “Does Good Mother = Miserable Woman?” Essig discusses a recent study of mothers who practice “intensive parenting” are more likely prone to depression and ultimately are bad parents because they are terribly unhappy as individuals.  They put their children’s needs and happiness above their own to the detriment of their own fulfillment.  This sounds vaguely familiar–vaguely post WWII-1950s-June Cleaver.

Essig goes on to say:

I think the answer is that I could look like June Cleaver if I wanted to. I am white and middle class and could vacuum in pearls and a sweater set if necessary.  For white, middle-class mothers like me there is particular pressure to be “perfect” and somehow perfect means selfless, sacrificing, and preternaturally patient. The reasons this particular pressure is focused on white, middle-class mothers are both historical and contemporary, but have much to do with the invention of the “lady” as a way of creating class and race hierarchies in the 19th century. As “lady” was expanded from nobility to a larger middle class, working-class and poor women were excluded from good mothering (as well as the economic and racial privileges thereof).

This whole question, Essig suggests, is about white middle and upper middle class professional women, but what is the larger concern?  Is our society, culture, whatnot crumbling into ruins because women work?  Are children being warped?  Is the economic crisis the fault of professional women?  Is the fate of the Western Free World once again resting on the diminutive shoulders of women everywhere?  OK, I may be going too far here.

As I thought about this resurrected question of good mother/bad mother, two things come to mind (for me): First, this is all very unfair to women who struggle with whether they should work, stay home with the children, or find some middle ground.  Second, I couldn’t help but think about an essay I read in the early days of my graduate work in women’s history.  It was a state-of-the-field historiographic essay written by Gerda Lerner, “Placing Women in History,” published in Signs in 1975 (it was a paper given at the Berkshire Conference prior to that).  Lerner traces the development of the field of women’s history over five or so years of existence, going through various methodological approaches.  The one thing that sticks out for me in this article is that she charges women’s historians to ask new questions and to de-center what is considered the norm; these are not new ideas for women’s history, but they were at the time.  Up to that point (and arguably still today) we ask questions and judge past events based upon what is normal for men’s experiences.  Aren’t we still doing that when we keep going back and back and back yet again to this questions of what women should and should not do to have it all?   In the face of other recent rants (a la Rush Limbaugh) about what women should and should not do to be “good women,” what purpose does this serve?

Ultimately, I am as guilty as the next person by once again addressing this issue and not moving to an answer.  I think about the parents I know today who are committed to their children, who decided what is right for their families within the context of their circumstances (economic or otherwise), who may be judged because they don’t work or they do work, and I do not see how this continued debate is helping.

I used the King James Bible version of Proverbs 31 for the title of this post.  The entire passage is here.  I think of this passage when I contemplate historically the role that women are to play in American society.  This construction of womanhood was valued in colonial America, through the nineteenth century Cult of Domesticity, and onto the twentieth century and the myth of June Cleaver.  Today, are women only valuable if they do everything, at home and beyond?

Time Management

With vacation in our rear view window, I am compelled to turn my attention to work.  As any good historian (or academically minded soul) knows, one rarely ever goes on complete vacation.  Time off from work means more time for research and writing.  The end of the school year is more eagerly anticipated by my professor husband than his students.  It means no more paper work and correcting and he is free to read, write, and move forward on projects he has been nursing along throughout the school year.  Now, I understand that there are such things as sabbaticals, but he works for an institution which does not give them very much and currently one must compete for them.  Needless to say, he likes his summers.  (During our vacation, I wrote one book review and made a serious effort to write a second, which is very much due and possibly late.)

One of the concerns I had before I took my current position was that I would have time to continue my own research agenda (whatever that may be).  The regular week-day schedule for professors is generally very busy and full, but there is a built in sense that research and producing articles, books, what have you, is expected and supported.  One may have a 4-4 load, but one may not teach every day.  Certainly that other time is for office hours and class prep, but one can also carve out a regular schedule of writing.  In theory.  With an administrative job, one is to work in an office something similar to 9 to 5, every day of the week (I know, it is so weird.)  Again, I am not suggesting I work more than a professor; I just work in a more traditional office setting now.  Compounded with that is finding the time to do my own research and writing, which brings me to time management.

Everyone has to do it.  Everyone has their way of working, finding time to write, whether that is the morning in wee hours before they leave the house, or possibly the evenings.  Finding that time and sticking with it, keeping a regular schedule for writing, has to be one the hardest thing to do.  Ever.  We get tired.  We worked all day already.  Our spouses and/or families oddly enough want to spend time with us (or at the very least, would like us to contribute to the general upkeep of the house).  Why do I have to get up at 3 am just to be a productive scholar?  Wouldn’t it be a better idea to take a nap, or even better, watch a stupid movie on the TV?

I bring this up because that pesky old vacation has ended and I have before me a large chunk of work, both for my day job and for my research.  I have revisions on my book, Led by Mercy, to complete before the fall really gets in full swing. I have to prepare for a class I will teach as well.  I will not panic.  Nope.  I will set up a writing schedule and I will stick to it.  (I think I will ask my mother to say a novena for me.)