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Scott, Joan Wallach (1941–) - French Social History, History of Gender

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Born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 18, 1941, Joan Wallach Scott was the daughter of two high school teachers. She knew early in life that she wanted to be a historian. Scott attended Brandeis University as an undergraduate, earning a bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in 1962. She continued her studies at the University of Wisconsin, where she earned a Ph.D. in 1969.

Scott’s first academic appointment was as assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. Following that she was at Northwestern University, where she was the first woman faculty member in the history department. She was appointed assistant and then associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1980 she was appointed Nancy Duke Lewis Professor at Brown University. Again she was a first, this time the first woman to secure tenure in the history department at Brown University. At Brown she also served as director of the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women.

Scott was only the second woman to be invited to join the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University, where she currently works. She had spent a year at the institute, which was founded by Albert Einstein and others in 1930, from 1978 to 1979. As she stated in an interview with Katherine Hinds, Scott saw her appointment to the institute’s faculty as significant to women’s studies, a field “which has been struggling to legitimize itself in the scholarly world for the last ten to fifteen years.”

Joan Scott’s first book, The Glassworkers of Carmaux: French Craftsmen and Political Action in a Nineteenth-Century City , published in 1974, won the American Historical Association’s prize for the best first book written by an American on European history. In this work she tied together the two primary interests of her early professional career, social history and labor history, and made a major contribution to the new labor history. Scott is also well known for her explorations of gender dynamics in history and in historiography. She moved in that direction, she states, when students began to demand courses on women. In her second book, Women, Work, and Family , which she wrote with Louise Tilly, Scott went about addressing the invisibility of gender she readily admitted characterized her first book. “I’m most interested in how women figure—actually and symbolically—in working-class history,” she told Katherine Hinds in 1985. “Since labor history is my field, it seems appropriate to take these questions about women and gender and work them into labor history.” More recently, Joan Scott has been influential in the consideration of French postmodern theory as it applies to the study of history. She borrows from Michel Foucault in arguing that history is the study of politics, not simply politics narrowly defined in governmental terms but rather as “contests that involve power.” Power, as Scott and others continue to debate, is not only “a relationship of repression or domination but also a set of relationships or processes that produce positive effects.” There are no set data waiting to be used as history, she maintains; all history is decision making, all history is political.

Scott has also provided a great deal of service to the profession, in and outside of her universities. She chaired the Committee on Women Historians for the American Historical Association and the University of North Carolina Committee on the Status of Women. She helped set up women’s studies programs at the University of North Carolina and at Brown University.

Joan Scott is married to Donald Scott; they have a son and a daughter.

Scott, Larry B. (1961–) [next] [back] Scott, Anne Firor (1921–) - U.S. Southern History

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