Ellen Herman

Department of History, University of Oregon


HIST 460/560, Winter 2009
Week 1, Reading and Discussion Questions

Marcella Bombardieri, "Summers' Remarks on Women Draw Fire"

1. Why do you think the remarks made by Lawrence Summers a few years ago were so controversial? Do you think his view that sex differences originate in nature as well as in society is widespread? (Note: Barack Obama recently appointed Lawrence Summers as his chief economic advisor. Summers will be Director of the White House National Economic Council.)

Louann Brizendine, excerpt from The Female Brain

1. Brizendine argues that "there is no unisex brain." Explain.

2. What critical process shapes the embryological differentiation of males and females? Why is "nature's default gender setting" female?

3. Where does this author's argument leave advocates of "nurture" in the nature-nurture debate?

4. Brizendine presents evidence from studies of face-gazing and vocal perception in infants. These studies have direct implications for the social and emotional development of boys and girls. What implications, if any, do you think they have for intellectual development?

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, chapter 1 (1929)

1. Woolf argues that women must have money and rooms of their own if they are to think and write. Women have not been counted among great thinkers and writers primarily because they have not had the material resources that support intellectual creativity. Toward the end of her book, she wrote “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

2. What does the metaphor about fishing tell you?

3. What is Mary's response to being exluded from Oxbridge grounds and library?

4. Why do you think Woolf describes the meals that Mary eats in detail? What is she suggesting about differences between male and female writers?

5. Does Woolf hold Mary Seton’s mother responsible for the fact that Mary did not have money to spend or a room of her own in which to write or only a modest college like Fernham to attend?

6. Woolf notes that women in her country (England) now have the right to attend college, own property, and vote. Does this mean that women will now become great thinkers and writers?

7. Woolf concludes chapter 1 by having Mary ponder "what effect poverty has on the mind; and what effect weath has on the mind." How would you characterize the relationship between material resources and education?

Lorraine Daston, “The Naturalized Female Intellect”

1. What does this author mean when she writes that “naturalization is ideology at full strength”?

2. How has the western concept of intelligence changed over the past several centuries? What are the major differences between intelligence in the early modern period that Daston writes about and its “modern” counterpart elaborated since the mid-19th century?

3. What characteristics were associated with the early modern female intellect? Why? How is this an example of naturalization?

4. What is Daston’s point in contrasting views of female intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries with views of female intellectuals in the 19th century?

5. Why does she conclude that early modern nature was a profoundly moral concept whereas modern nature is amoral? What difference has this made for women thinkers and for thinking about gender and intelligence?