“Change of Life” Pathologizing Menopause

Change of life GH 67 - 1

From Good Housekeeping September 1967

In my Digital History course we’re moving onto the “doing” or hands-on part of the course. It’s a bit overwhelming but also incredibly exciting. In many ways I feel as though my imagination is the limit for this project, and then I return to reality. Taking two other demanding courses and teaching Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays is more limiting than my humble imagination.

So I’m reaching for a low-ish hanging fruit. Not necessarily in terms of “easiness” but in terms of producing a project that would be more cohesive, build-able, and with a decent amount of data, rather than starting from scratch. I’m hoping to create a digital manifestation of a previous term paper titled, “Pathologizing Menopause: Surveillance Over Aging Women’s Bodies.”

As with many papers, after turning them in, all I can think about is how I want to change, rearrange, and further edit my work. This digital history project will offer just that opportunity in a much more creative way.

Even before sifting through my primary sources (magazine articles from the 1940s to the mid-1960s about menopause), I’m expanding and narrowing my scope simultaneously. On the one hand, I want the digital expression of this project to also address how the language to describe menopause is historically contextual and has changed since the postwar era. Tracing the language used to describe (or pathologized) a condition is especially important for my project not just for purposes of analytical inquiry, but important for data organization and search functions. On the other hand, keeping narrow my primary sources allows me to make this semester project manageable.

Back to terminology, on the simplest level, the term “change of life” was equally, if not more, prevalent in the early postwar years. For a large part, the discourse around menopause had a mysterious aura to the naturally occurring condition. Also, many articles explored the ways menopause can be adverted completely. So terms like “prevent,” “cure,” and “avoid” were pervasive. Tracing the evolution of these terms give historical context on how menopause was constructed as a disease and also significantly impact how I set up my data for visitors.

With this project, I’m primarily interested in illuminating how the postwar years was a rich time in American history when women’s bodies were scrutinized and pathologized, which appropriated a “normalizing” rhetoric that enabled heightened surveillance and medical intervention over them. My hope is to trace a fairly recent genealogy that sheds light on how society does or doesn’t pathologized women’s bodies today.

In the spirit of open collaboration, I’m going to try to set the project up to allow contributors and discussion. Depending on my level of success, I’d like to expand the time frame beyond and preceding the post war years, respectfully, as well as including other historically pathologized “conditions” like menstruation, hysteria, pregnancy, and homosexuality.

I’ll be blogging about my successes and challenges with this project along the way.

My spatial brainstorming mapmap thus far via VUE:


Digital Humanities and the Future of my Academic “Work”

Black face caricature circa 1928. Publisher Seibundo Shotenkaisha 誠文堂商店界社  [From the Japanese Commercial graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection]

Black face caricature circa 1928. Publisher Seibundo Shotenkaisha 誠文堂商店界社 [From the Japanese Commercial Graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection]

Although, I have problems with David Bell’s tendency to over essentialize an issue against print monographs in the academic sphere, I do find the conversation about new ways to view academic “work” exciting.

I’m especially interested in bridging the knowledge and accessibility gap between academic research with the public, so some of Bell’s arguments for the Internet’s democratizing potential resonates. But I don’t buy that digital tools are as democratizing or decentralizing as the authors of From Counterculture to Cyberculture suggest; however, the conversation about increasing public access to research and knowledge, and the notion that academics should consider a larger audience is appealing.

Bell’s essay also questions the value and feasibility of printed monographs. This is quite unnerving for a humanities academic.

“They are also passing the cost pressures on to those authors they do accept; it is becoming routine in some fields for university presses to demand subsidies of $5,000 or more to publish a book, and to insist on strict limits on length. In some fields, the printed academic monograph seems dangerously close to extinction.”

Before taking this Digital History course the notion that the academic monograph is in danger didn’t register on my radar. Isn’t this a cornerstone for tenure? I definitely want to be part of a larger dialogue within my department and the university to understand the direction in which we’re headed. My professional well-being relies on what the academe constitutes as “work.”

But how do we begin to redefine the notion of “publish or perish”? Will it look different in different fields? Arguably, digital projects vary to a far greater degree than books and printed work, so is it necessary to establish some sort of standard or protocol to submit non-monograph work? Is the notion of a standard counter-productive to the digital age’s “decentralizing potential”?

“[S]cholars are, after all, professional readers” Bell asserts. But according to this essay it seems as though “reading” is taking on new meanings as well.

I started browsing the University of Hawaii’s digital collections to get a sense of this new kind of work humanities scholars are moving toward. This project on Japanese commercial graphic designs from the 1920s caught my attention; I love looking at early 20th century advertisements and never had the opportunity to look at a collection of them from Japan.

In addition to the 1920s graphic designs, what interested me about this digital archive was this tiny little link at the bottom of the home page. I wanted to know more about the open source software the collection works with.

From the Japanese Commercial graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection

From the Japanese Commercial Graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection

This hyperlink lead me to another set of interesting digital archives and projects formerly inaccessible to the public. Streetprint.org’s goal “is to make formerly inaccessible texts and other artifacts available in an exciting new way to researchers, students, and the general public alike.”

These are the kinds of projects that make me excited about where humanities work is headed within the digital evolution. My venture to other sites via hyperlinks also speak to Bell’s (among other scholars’) argument about non-linear and infinite learning potential guided by the reader’s interests. This project also brings up questions about open source work, which seems to be a hotly contested issue within this larger conversation about academic work in the digital age.

As I addressed in my post last week, I’m overwhelmed with more questions than a definite understanding of what digital humanities is and what it means for my professional future as well as my stress level.

Online Identity Crisis

I’ve grappled over this issue before – how to create/maintain my digital identity. In hindsight, I wish I wrestled with this online from the get-go rather than in my head and notebook (or in a course assignment requiring me to blog on the topic). For starters I would have spent more time productively blogging than feeling paralyzed over how to articulate my pseudo professional status. (Which by the way I’ve settled on “professional student,” “educator,” “PhD student,” and “masochist” depending on my mood that day.)

I first started seriously considering my online presence after joining a small word-of-mouth group called “permanent beta.” This was a few years ago. We are a group of women that gather once in a while to bounce professional concerns off of each other (I’m the only academic). Almost every meeting we chat about online presence and social media issues. Two large takeaways I got from this group are that our online identity isn’t fixed and that it’s better to actively take charge of it than passively hope we look okay in internet-o-shpere.

This Stanford piece on virtual identities had me at the first sentence, “First impressions have gone virtual.” Among two other very interesting courses (American Sexuality and Autobiographical Writing) I’m taking Digital History, which once again brings me to consider my online identity. Here are a few self-inflicted roadblocks I’ve faced preventing an active investment in my online identity (and by extension blogging more frequently):

  • I have no idea when I’m going to graduate so I assume I won’t need to worry about this for a while.
  • I’m not aiming for a traditional career path so I don’t know how to tailor my profile, “about” section, Linked-in, etc.
  • Speaking of Linked-in, I have small insecurities about having quit my full-time project management job to go back to school (read: I don’t have a “real job”) so I’ve avoided signing on and updating my profile.
  • Re: blogging. My audience and biggest fan is my husband. After that, an occasional friend. Writing into the digital abyss is taxing on the creative spirit.
  • Time! I’ve never worked so many long hours in my life. When I’m not reading or writing for school I feel guilty. It feels a bit self-indulgent to spend time building up my online self.
  • My Facebook privacy settings are on pretty high. I’m safe right?

That felt good to write.

And now the things I’m doing (or will do) to address the issues above:

  • Take a digital history course where weekly blogging and research on digital identities (practical and meta-analytical) are mandatory.
  • Make a list with all my social media accounts and update each profile. Assign a due date (within the next two weeks) and ask a friend to look at it.
  • Write a post now! (Which I’m doing.)
  • Remind myself that I can change or update my profiles anytime. Just like real identities I have many ways of being me and they’re rarely fixed one way.
  • Regularly follow other bloggers and digital historians/humanists.

Speaking of which, here are some blogs I follow that keep me interested and inspired. One relates to digital learning, the other is an interesting digital history project on American Foodways, and this last one is about being a PhD student and creative writer. And for those struggling to be an effective blogger (like I am), this article might be useful.

Rather than starting a new blog (for the Digital History course) I’ll be using this one to write about my academic experience this semester. There’s something nice about building on an existing blog instead of starting, yet another one, from scratch.

I leave you with this bootleg video of a scene from The Office. Dwight Schrute in Second Life.