Environmental Scan for NEH Digital Project for the Public Proposal

November 5, 2019 admin 0 Comments

Working title: Women and Race in State-Resistive Movements in the U.S., 1800-2019

Scholarship on race, gender, and other identities in social movements in the United States is plentiful, but there is little discussion around the racial diversity between women in American state-resistive movements (protesting against or advocating for state-policies or practices to improve the conditions of a marginalized group). Recently, scholars in Women’s and Gender studies and African American history have critiqued the lack of representation of African American women’s participation in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.[1] Black or African American women were a part of the civil rights movement in many important ways but were typically not given credit publicly for their contributions. As a result, they are not as remembered in the national memory of civil rights today compared to the Black men who participated in these movements. On the other hand, in early American historical movements for female equality, many scholars and members of the public have pointed out that Black, African American, Hispanic, Latina, and other women of color were mostly excluded from participating, especially in the suffragist movement in the 1840s and 1920s and later in the women’s liberation movement.[2] This project would officially provide an online format for users to see historical racial exclusions between women in state-resistive movements. Covering events from 1800 to 2019, it would also expand the public’s understanding that state resistance has always been a part of American history and did not only occur in the second half of the twentieth-century.   

There were many state-resistive movements and moments in the U.S. driven by women of diverse races, or movements at least supported by women of different races, such as white women who formed anti-slavery societies during the Civil War or multiracial housewife protests and activism during the Great Depression in the 1930s.[3] Viewing racially diverse interactions between women is taking an intersectional approach, which Kimberlé Crenshaw describes as a lens to see multiple forms of oppression.[4] Although other people have utilized Crenshaw’s term to view the oppression of identities like sexuality, class, etc., Crenshaw specifically analyzes African American and Black women, as they are oppressed by both racism and sexism. This project will use Crenshaw’s original intersectional approach by tracing how different women navigated racism and sexism in state-resistive movements – or track if the movement itself reproduced racism by excluding certain women of color. This project will not only contextualize the now Twitter trending term #intersectionality but also help bolster activists and the public’s understanding of intersectionality as a potential tool to garner stronger cross-racial alliances between women in activist spaces.

The history of women of one race being a part of, supportive of, or against social movements with women of a different race is scattered across different academic disciplines. This project will combine these different pieces of history into a cohesive, digital platform. It will draw on historians’ biographies and digital collections that cover prominent white women’s writings on social activism and race, like the Library of Congress’ collection of Susan B. Anthony’s writings about the suffrage movement and her thoughts on the abolition movement. It will also draw on newspaper and archival records of cross-racial protests and movements of mothers or women in unions, white women helping runaway slaves and forming female anti-slavery societies, etc. Overall, the project will use a host of scholarship in history, sociology, and women’s and gender studies that details women in different activist movements and at the least mentions racial interactions between them. 

The “Women and Social Movements[5] digital library is a massive collection of items covering female activists in the U.S. from 1600 to 2000. This site provides resources and argues that women have always had prominent roles in American social movements, but it does not account for the specific racial interactions, exclusions, and alliances that happened between women in activist contexts. “Mapping American Social Movements[6] is a digital project that provides multiple maps and charts of American social movements from the late nineteenth-century and on but discusses gender and race’s roles in activism separately through having separate visuals for each movement studied. Our project will address the cross sections of race and women in state-resistive movements, providing an interactive and interconnected database for the public and specifically activists to question what the different implications are for different cross-racial moments between women during state-resistance. 

We envision this project to be an interactive database, comprised of an interactive network visualization and multiple maps that track the history of racially exclusive female-led movements and female allies to movements or advocacy for women of other races. We anticipate using GIS as well as GEPHI for the network analysis and visualization. The predominate feature of the site will be the network visualization. The “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon” site serves as a helpful example, as it is also an interactive network that shows the connections between a large number of people to Francis Bacon and to one another. This project will similarly create an interactive network that traces the different racial connections within a social movement between women but seeks to be more user-friendly and accessible by showing each social movement as a separate web that encompasses different women and their interactions. Once clicking a woman’s name, users will be able to see the associated archival or secondary sources that details their involvement with the movement and if they interacted with women of other races in that context. Representing each woman as a dot and having linked sources associated with each woman’s role in a movement corroborates the validity of the site’s argument and further humanizes each woman, a goal especially important for the representation of women of color and lesser known women in history.[7] The lines showing a relationship or interaction between two women of different races will also be color coded; if the line connecting two people is green, it was a positive interaction, red was a negative interaction, and yellow was a complex one. The purpose behind the color-coded lines is to acknowledge that not every interaction was good or bad but could have had a number of reasons for its complexity.


[1]  Barnett, Bernice McNair. “Invisible southern black women leaders in the civil rights movement: The triple constraints of gender, race, and class.” Gender & Society 7, no. 2 (1993), 162-182. hooks, bell. Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics. (Cambridge): South End Press, 2000.

[2] Collins, Patricia H. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. Routledge. 2004. hooks, bell. 2000.

[3] Abramovitz, Mimi, “Learning from the History of Poor and Working-Class Women’s Activism.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science vol. 577, Reforming Welfare, Redefining Poverty (Sep. 2001), 118-130. Orleck, Annelise. “’We Are That Mythical Thing Called the Public:’ Militant Housewives during the Great Depression.” Feminist Studies vol. 19, no. 1 (Spring 1993), 147-172.

[4] Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989, 139-167.

[5] “Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000,” Alexander Street, A ProQuest Company. 2019. Accessed Nov 01, 2019. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/wass

[6] Mapping American Social Movements Through the 20th Century. Retrieved Nov 03, 2019. http://depts.washington.edu/moves/

[7] Hepworth, Katherine and Church, Christopher. “Racism in the Machine: Visualization Ethics in Digital Humanities Projects,” Digital Humanities Quarterly vol. 12 no. 4, 2018. http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/12/4/000408/000408.html

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