Gender symposium kicks off semester with discussion of subjectivity in research

Elizabeth Hlavinka

UT faculty and students gathered Friday to discuss methods of decreasing subjectivity in gender-based research through theory.

Run by history Ph.D. students Liz Elizondo and Sandy Chang, the Symposium on Gender, History, and Sexuality aims to showcase a variety of lectures, presentations and roundtable discussions on the intersection of history with gender and sexuality. The symposium, encompassing multiple disciplines, will run throughout the semester with a discussion every other Friday. 

To answer common, recurring questions many graduate students encounter throughout their research, Elizondo and Chang said they decided to title this discussion “‘Doing’ Gender History: Theoretical and Methodological Challenges” to consider how and how often historians incorporate theory into their research in order to decrease subjectivity. 

“We decided to approach the broader question by focusing on the idea of experience,” Chang said. “[We wanted to look into] how historians deal with issues of gendered experience, how experience relates to voice and subjectivity and how to document and capture this.” 

Postdoctoral research fellow Julia Gossard said her dissertation argued that the submissive roles of children have important historical significance.

”Intrinsically linked to childhood are issues of gender history,” Gossard said. “I really wanted to look at the fluidity of gender in one’s life: What does it mean to be a boy and what does it mean to be a girl? How do those experiences differ? Not only that, but how does a boy at the age of 7 differ from that of one at 17?” 

History associate professor Laurie Green said intersectionality, the unique intersection between different identities, is often an obstacle to hearing the voices of others. Categorical labels, she said, can limit the ways we approach different histories. 

“Intersectionality can block our ability to ask more questions and consider new ways of thinking about these issues and power relations if we assume a unique, subjective [view],” Green said. 

Chris Babits, a history graduate student, asked the panel how often they, personally, revert to theory when producing their own work. 

“If things are not working out and you are troubled, it’s important to not let that go,” Green said in response. “People come to work with ideas. Don’t ever try to apply theory with history. Trust that it’s in there and look at your data.”

The next symposium meeting will be held on Sept. 18 on the topic, “Gendered Piety: Founding Charitable Endowments in Seventeenth-Century Istanbul.” Elizondo and Chang said they welcome and encourage interested students to attend.