Seniors Read Theses Excerpts

Papers Celebrate Women's History Week

Standing on the other side of the podium, five History and Literature concentrators yesterday afternoon offered synopsis of their theses addressing topics of women's studies.

About 20 students and faculty members gathered in Burr Hall to hear the reports which included studies of medieval French marital customs and the American Women's Army Corps in World War II.

Each student lectured for 15 minutes at the sixth annual symposium to commemorate Women's History Week, said Sonya Michel, a History and Literature lecturer.

Michel said that this year the department had to choose the five top women's history theses from a significantly higher number of papers than in the past. "There used to be there were just enough [essays] to fill up the slots [at the symposium]," she said.

This increased interest in women's issues comes at a time when Harvard has just approved a women's studies program and honors-only concentration.


Because women's studies is a relatively new field, undergraduates can generate original thesis topics and publish their work, Michel said.

"Women's studies is where the most creative scholarship is going on," said Judith M. Smith, associate professor of history at Boston College, who commented briefly on the students' presentations after they spoke.

"These theses reflect that intellectual liveliness and also contribute to it," Smith said.

Other topics included American women travellers in 19th century Europe, women at Oxford and Cambridge between 1870 and 1920, and the struggle between 1923 and 1937 for the establishment of a minimum wage for American women.

The undergraduates relied primarily on diaries, pamphlets, advertising, and literary works to research their topics because few newspapers and books relate to women's history.

"Women were not in a place where records might have been kept about them," Michel said.

Christina Mungan '87 said she had to avoid skewing history with her own feminist perspective. Mungan, who researched marital relations as described in a 14th century manual, said she was "very, very factual" because she "was afraid that people would jump up and say, 'O.K., you're a feminist, not a historian."'

The other History and Literature concentrators giving presentations in Burr Hall were Estelina L. Dallett '87, Edith Ervin '87, Valerie G. Scoon '87, and Takemi Ueno '87.