Outstanding Academic Titles 2023: Women’s History Month, Part One

This week we highlight, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year to commemorate Women's History Month

Enjoy these five selections from the Choice Reviews 2023 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year to commemorate Women’s History Month. A hearty congratulations to the winning authors, editors and publishers!

1. Howardena Pindell: reclaiming abstraction
Cowan, Sarah Louise. Yale, 2022

African American artist Howardena Pindell (b. 1943) has been a trailblazing painter and multimedia artist, but her long career is an undertold story. Cowan (DePauw Univ.) presents a comprehensive analysis of Pindell’s development and relevant cultural context, late 1960s to early 1980s. Committed to abstract modernism, Pindell earned a Yale MFA in 1967 and then moved to New York City and took a job at the Museum of Modern Art. Her arrival at MoMA coincided with postminimalist tendencies, including introducing handmade elements and simple materials into geometric minimalism. This “diversifying” of minimalism did not diversify recognition for artists of color, yet Pindell exploited collage, participated in significant exhibitions, and heightened the visibility of African American artists, as both an insider (i.e., at MoMA) and an outsider activist. She visited Africa in 1973, absorbing visual cultural traditions. As a feminist she integrated multiple influences and media, making them her own. Regarding her Free, White and 21 (1980), a video made after her devastating auto accident, Pindell said, “I wanted to have my work express what I felt and my view of the world.” African American artists were gaining traction, and Cowan meticulously describes a broad range of that work, interweaving context with biography and providing a full picture of the artist in a most significant era. View on Amazon

2. As told by herself: women’s childhood autobiography, 1845 -1969
Martens, Lorna. Wisconsin, 2022

The question of which women wrote childhood autobiographies is simpler to answer than why they chose to write those accounts, according to this thoroughly researched and analyzed study. Including almost 200 narratives by professional women of letters in multiple languages over more than a century, the result is the first historical examination of the female childhood autobiography of its kind. Martens (German and comparative literature, Univ. of Virginia) organizes the autobiographies chronologically into distinct periods based on important events, such as wars, and on shifts she notes in the works themselves. Though only a few autobiographies appeared prior to 1900, women began writing them more frequently from the 1920s onward. The genre exploded with the arrival of second-wave feminism, which Martens notes has much to do with gender. Women’s literacy expanded over time as did women’s access to publishing houses. Reflecting on childhood constituted a suitable genre for women writers, who wrote not just about themselves but also about their surroundings and the events they experienced. Painting a widely varied picture of women’s childhood, these autobiographies defied easy categorization as “trivial, fluffy, or boilerplate” (p. 17). Martens’s rich cache of stories reveals new insight into women as they saw themselves. View on Amazon

3.The industrial Brontës: advocates for women’s equality in a turbulent age
Shirley, Taten. Lexington Books, 2023

The three Brontë sisters—Charlotte (1816–55), Emily (1818–48), Anne (1820–49)—between them wrote a total of seven novels. Whether the siblings discussed the effects of the industrial revolution one cannot know, but their fiction reveals a profound interest in the social changes it brought on. Their books ask how women can achieve agency. The answer is brought to the fore in complex novels that show protagonists who saw beyond love and marriage to the enriching possibilities of education and work. By 1855 the sisters were all dead, but their writings lived on and helped bring about social change. In 1904 Virginia Woolf visited the Brontë home on the moors: their knicknacks did not speak to her, but the novels still did. Over time scholarship has enriched understanding of the dark truths of Victorian change. This book is easy to read and well researched, and it includes useful chapter notes in addition to the customary scholarly apparatus. View on Amazon

4. Performing racial uplift: E. Azalia Hackley and African American activism in the postbellum to pre-Harlem era
Karpf, Juanita. University Press of Mississippi, 2022

This book is a joy to read. A renowned scholar, Karpf is widely published and has taught music at many levels—from K–12 to respected colleges and universities. She brings a keen expertise to this critical inquiry into E. Azalia Hackley (1867–1922) and her remarkable life. An accomplished musician, educator, and activist, Hackley harnessed the energy of the postbellum, pre-Harlem years. The focus on racial equity generated a powerful initiative she called “musical social uplift.” Karpf addresses distinctive aspects of Hackley’s work to reveal the remarkably innovative perspectives informing her contributions. Although her early career as a classical soprano soloist followed established precedents, nothing comparable existed for music educators and certainly not for teaching Black students. The pedagogy Hackley assembled supported self-esteem and race pride, teaching music skills as a valuable community endeavor. Especially progressive was her incorporation of theological tenets of New Thought ideology. In the book’ s seven chapters, Karpf illuminates the remarkable innovation, creativity, perseverance, and relevance of Hackley’s work, which can no longer be overlooked in historical narratives of music in the US. An exemplary model of research methods, this richly engaging book will appeal to and encourage readers across disciplines. Karpf argues for using Hackley’s contributions as viable strategies to implement in contemporary society. View on Amazon

5The great stewardess rebellion: how women launched a workplace rebellion at 30,000 feet McShane Wulfhart, Nell. Doubleday, 2022

Stewardesses in the 1960s and 1970s were imagined as waitresses in the sky and glamorous playthings for men. Forced to undergo humiliating weight checks, wear sexy outfits, and be fired when they married or reached age 32, stewardesses were not perceived as air safety professionals. As Wulfhart (journalist) explains with the aid of many advertisements, the airplane cabin was the sexist workplace in America. The airlines, the media, and the male-dominated Transport Workers Union (TWU) disparaged stewardesses until they began to organize. The 1964 Civil Right Act banned sex discrimination, but the government did not enforce this provision. Stewardesses fought the US government to treat sex discrimination as real discrimination. They created an organization to push back on demeaning images of stewardesses in the media, and they left the TWU to form a new union that would fight for working women. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by a stewardess that marriage had nothing to do with job competence, thereby protecting all women workers from being fired upon marriage. Wulfhart profiles several flight attendants, from their decisions to become stewardesses through their training and career challenges. The result is a highly readable history. View on Amazon

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