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History of Feminism




Admission Requirements



What is feminism? Why does the very word so often evoke discomfort and controversy?

This course will help us understand feminism’s history — both as a social movement and as a body of social thought. Beginning with the era of the French Revolution and extending to the present day, we will ask a number of interrelated questions:

  • What has accounted for the rise and development of feminist thought and action?

  • What have been feminism’s major preoccupations, challenges, and goals — and how have these changed over time and across space?

  • How have the processes of colonization, industrialization, democratization, and globalization shaped feminist movements around the world?

  • How has feminism intersected with different world religions?

  • And how have feminists been divided amongst themselves over questions of race, class, nationality, faith, or sexuality?

As we engage these questions, we will pay particular attention to the historically reciprocal relationship between feminism and other political and intellectual formations, including liberalism, nationalism, socialism, anti-racism, and gay liberation. In effect, the course offers a broad intellectual and social history of political thought and activism focused on gender relations and the connections between private and public life.

Course Objectives

By successfully completing this course, you will:

  • gain a broad familiarity with major themes in the history of feminism as a global phenomenon.

  • be able to explain how and why feminist movements have intersected with other social, political, and intellectual formations.

  • hone your skills in locating and interpreting primary and secondary source documents in the same archives that professional historians use.

  • improve your oral presentation skills.

  • devise and execute a well-argued research essay, while polishing your academic prose.

Mode of Instruction

This course will be conducted as a seminar, meeting for two 2-hour sessions per week. Each class will center on discussion of a set of assigned readings, with the addition of one or two student presentations of supplementary texts. The instructor will provide reading questions in advance of each class, along with suggestions and strategies for digesting the assigned material. Students, however, will bear significant responsibility for directing and selecting the themes for classroom discussion—many of which shall be guided by students’ own research interests. The success of the seminar will therefore depend on students’ collective willingness to stay on top of the assigned material and to participate actively in class discussion.

Throughout the course, students will encounter a wide variety of materials. In addition to reading historical books and articles, we will also be exploring feminist theory, analyzing primary historical documents, and watching documentary films. Our shared readings are designed to provide inspiration and a common framework for students’ individual research projects in the history of feminism—which they will be encouraged to pursue, at least in part, through the Atria Institute in Amsterdam ( One extra class session will bring us to Amsterdam for a tour and introduction to the archive, for those students who have not yet visited it.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

Participation & Web Postings: 20% (Weeks 1-7)
Class Presentation (15 minutes): 15%
Research Proposal (500 words): 5% (Week 3)
Midterm Essay (1500 words): 20% (Week 5)
Final Essay (2500-3000 words): 40% (Week 8)


Course readings will be made available via Blackboard.

Contact Information

Dr. Ann Marie Wilson,

Weekly Overview

The precise weekly breakdown is subject to revision, but will likely proceed as follows:

Week 1 – What is Feminism?
Week 2 – Can Women be Citizens? Feminism in the Age of Democratic Revolution
Week 3 – Nineteenth Century Struggles: Democracy, Race, Imperialism
Week 4 – War, Consumption, Labor
Week 5 – 1960s Radicalism and the Second Wave
Week 6 – Identity Politics: Feminism, Civil Rights, Gay Liberation
Week 7 – Women’s Rights & Human Rights: Global Feminism Today

Preparation for first session

TBD. The instructor will email those students enrolled in the course to share the short assigned reading.