In the summer of 2018, faculty from a number of institutions and disciplines will come together at Bryn Mawr for a week-long research session around the topic of “Women’s Bodies as Sites of Social Navigation: The Cultivation, Display, and Consumption of Female Beauty and Sexuality.”
“We are especially interested in women who lived as social outliers because of the real and/or perceived sexualized nature of their professional and personal conduct,” says the session's organizer, Associate Professor of History of Art Alicia Walker '94. “Such women might include mistresses, courtesans, prostitutes, movie stars, and pagan mythological and epic characters.”
Walker, for example, is researching mistresses in the ninth- to 13th-century Byzantine court. Other participants are researching LGBT representation in film and media, 19th-century prostitutes in Paris, early modern and modern witches, and Spartan women.
The overarching research areas of the current participants fall within two broad cultural-historical contexts: the Greco-Roman tradition, including its medieval persistence in the Byzantine world; and post-Enlightenment (18th- to 20th-century) Western Europe and North America.
More an “intellectual retreat” than a traditional conference, the session is a time for participants to “ask questions as much as answer them,” says Walker.
“Conferences tend to be very performative and argument driven. There will be these moments of creative energy but that energy is often lost as participants go back to their normal routine,” Walker notes. “Our model looks to promote cooperation, the sharing of ideas, and to build in time to solidify the progress that often gets lost when a conference ends.”
Walker, is co-directing the project with Grace An ’93, who is currently a professor of French and Cinema Studies at Oberlin College.
“This project actually started when I saw Grace post something on Facebook about French movie stars and I realized that we were working on many of the same issues, only in different contexts,” says Walker.
Vanderbilt Assistant Professor of Greek Art and Archaeology Mireille Lee Ph.D. ‘99, whose research focuses on ancient Greek mirrors as social objects, will also take part in the session.
“I think it says a lot about Bryn Mawr as an institution that we all reconnected because of our ideas,” says Walker. “The reason I choose to come to Bryn Mawr as a student and choose to come back as a faculty member is that you don’t have to apologize for being passionate about your intellectual pursuits. At Bryn Mawr, I wasn’t alone in finding joy in ideas and learning. I am hoping this same spirit will drive our retreat.”
The session is being held June 4-9 and is being funded by a grant from the Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges (AALAC). Participants include faculty from Bryn Mawr, Oberlin, Haverford, Swarthmore, Mount Holyoke, Reed, Vassar, and Macalester.