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Women in Humanities

Women in Humanities Fall 2021 magazine

As women have increasingly contributed their time, talents, and mentorship to the humanities, the field has evolved to reflect the unique contributions women make. In the following stories, eight faculty members (one from each department in the College of Humanities) share their admiration for women who have helped redefine the humanities—and what it means to be human.

Annette Baier (Katie Paxman, Philosophy)

Annette Baier (1929–2012) was an inspiration to me as a woman in philosophy. She was a David Hume scholar, and she taught moral philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh for much of her career. As a moral feminist philosopher, Annette brought a strong and much-needed female perspective to the field. She understood that humans are feeling, social creatures, and that we need interconnectedness for society to flourish. Her take on moral psychology and what it means to be good focuses on relationships and caring instead of the abstract laws about right and wrong that are common in traditional philosophy. Women are consistently under-represented in our field, but Annette’s generosity showed me that mentoring and community can help women thrive in philosophy. Annette was from the generation of women who were still fighting to have a place and a voice, but she came out of that struggle warm, inclusive, and interested in supporting other people. (Katie Paxman, Philosophy)

Diane Strong-Krause (Julie Damron, Asian & Near Eastern Languages)

I arrived at BYU over 21 years ago, energized from successfully completing a PhD in Linguistics. Although optimistic about professorship and motherhood—my three young children ranged in age from five months to six years old—I soon became overwhelmed by the demands of that balancing act. On occasion, I crossed paths with Diane Strong-Krause. She was a successful professor and mother who also served as the chair of the BYU Department of Linguistics and English Language. Diane never offered advice unless I asked, except once. The demands of work and family must have shown on my face that day, because she encouraged me to fully embrace my role as a mother amid my passion and enthusiasm for my career.
Twenty-one quick years later, I am now an empty nester and still a professor in the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages. I have followed in Diane’s footsteps in a few areas, including internationalizing internships and examining the effectiveness of self-assessment strategies in language learning. I’m grateful for Diane’s professional and personal example. Her advice helped me navigate priorities, accept sacrifice, and more. I look up to her for living a personal and professional life that exemplifies Emily Dickinson’s poetry: “If I can stop one Heart from breaking/I shall not live in vain/If I can ease one Life the Aching/Or cool one Pain/Or help one fainting Robin/Unto his Nest again/I shall not live in Vain.”

Amy Einsohn (Suzy Bills, Linguistics)

Amy Einsohn (1952–2014) embodied the spirit of editing. Though I didn’t know her personally, the interactions I had with her via editing forums and mailing lists have inspired me in my career as an editor. One of the most influential things I learned about editing from Amy is the importance of seeing a need and being willing to contribute my time and expertise to help fill that need. In fact, one of Amy’s greatest contributions to editing started as a response to a need. Amy wrote The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications because she saw the need for a self-learning resource that editors could use to become better at their craft. Now, 21 years after the publication of the first edition, The Copyeditor’s Handbook is used by editors around the world. Amy considered herself just another editor, and I’m sure she didn’t aspire to write The Copyeditor’s Handbook when she was starting her career, but her work has shown me that we can accomplish great things by simply asking, “What can I do to help other people?”

Jeannine Blackwell (Michelle Stott James, German & Russian)

The woman who has most deeply impacted my scholarly life is Jeannine Blackwell, now retired from the University of Kentucky. Jeannine was a founding member of Women in German, an academic group that I joined as a new faculty member. Already one of the most well-respected scholars in the field of early German-language women’s literature, Jeannine took me under her wing when she discovered that we shared research interests. As I was establishing myself as a scholar, she offered me expertise, insight, and endless mentoring. When we started the Sophie Project—an online database at BYU of early German-language texts from female authors—Jeannine was one of the main resources to whom I repeatedly turned. She was also of inestimable help when we established the Sophie website, once again offering suggestions and insight about our project. Much of what I have achieved as a scholar has at its foundation the direction I received from Jeannine Blackwell.

Christine de Pisan (Jennifer Haraguchi, French & Italian)

Christine de Pisan (1364–c. 1430) was one of the first European women to make a professional career out of writing. She was Italian by birth, but her family moved to Paris in 1368 for her father’s appointment as astrologer-physician in the French court. When Christine was widowed at the age of 25, she took up the pen to support herself, her two children, and her widowed mother—and to reclaim her husband’s estate. She received commissions for poetry, literary criticism, a manual of military strategy for men, a moral treatise for women, and a history of the late King Charles V. In addition to securing a career for herself in a male-dominated world, she promoted the employment of other women by hiring them to copy and illuminate her manuscripts in an all-female workshop. Christine’s arguments on the worth of women are best expressed in her Le livre de la cité des dames (The Book of the City of Ladies). In this work, she recounts a vision she had of three female allegorical figures—Reason, Rectitude, and Justice—who help her build a metaphorical city to provide refuge for women and defend them from men’s insults against their intellectual capabilities, morality, bodies, behavior, and potential.

Geertruydt Roghman (Martha Peacock, Comparative Arts & Letters)

When I began my study of Dutch Golden Age domestic imagery, the works of Geertruydt Roghman (1625–c. 1650) immediately and completely absorbed my attention due to their unprecedented perspective on women. These innovative images powerfully magnified and ennobled women’s work. Roghman’s art focused on women intently performing tasks such as sewing, spinning, cooking, drawing, and cleaning. She used unique viewing angles and the monumentality of the figures to draw attention to each task, thus emphasizing the valued labor of women and their heroic contributions to Dutch society. Although Roghman came from a family of Amsterdam artists, it was highly unusual for a woman to design and engrave prints. Hence, her signature is a remarkably bold proclamation of her artistic genius as inventor of these unique compositions—compositions that influenced artists such as Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch through the rest of the seventeenth century. Perhaps Roghman’s greatest contribution was teaching men how to view and depict women in a respectful and admiring way.

Bernarda Ferreira de Lacerda (Valerie Hegstrom, Spanish & Portuguese)

During her lifetime, Bernarda Ferreira de Lacerda (c. 1595–1644) was the most famous woman writer living on the Iberian Pen-insula. Because of her epic poem Hespaña libertada (1618), prominent Spanish writers corresponded with and dedicated poetry to her, and Portuguese authors invited her to pen the initial octaves of each canto of their own epic poems. Lacerda married young, and eight years later her husband died, leaving her widowed with six children. She continued to write poetry after her husband’s death, composing in Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, and Italian at a time when women could not attend university. In 1634, Lacerda published an early collection of landscape poems about the forest and mountains of Buçaco. I have traveled to Buçaco three times because of Lacerda’s work. Her poem, “En todo el mundo no hay ojos . . . ”—one of the first early modern European “view-from-the-top” poems—inspired me to climb Mt. Buçaco to stand where she stood and see the cities, rivers, mountains, and ocean her poem describes. Like many women scholars today, Lacerda integrated her writing with her family, studies, and religious devotion, as well as her disappointment, loss, and achievement.

Marie de France (Juliana Chapman, English)

“Marie ai num si sui de France.” My name is Marie, and I am from France. This enigmatic introduction to her Fables is almost all we know about Marie de France (c. 1155–1215). She is among the most influential women writers of Medieval Europe and is credited with establishing the literary genre later known as chivalric romance, yet we know very little about Marie herself. She was a French noblewoman who lived and wrote in England in the late 12th century and was associated with the court of Henry II. She may have been King Henry II’s half-sister and abbess of Shaftesbury, another Marie who was then abbess of Reading, or perhaps an entirely different Marie. Marie was well educated, at least trilingual (French, English, and Latin), and produced an expansive collection of popular literature through her work as an author and translator. Her works include the Lais, Fables, St. Patrick’s Purgatory, and possibly The Life of St. Audrey. Marie was mindful of being a female author in a field dominated by men. Her chivalric poems include female characters who were unusual for their time—women who were complex, lovely, and flawed. Marie wrote and inspired literature that was both complicatedly and refreshingly human.

This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Humanities alumni magazine.