Susan A. Glenn

Project Description

Susan Glenn

Professor, Department of History

Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley (1983)

Contact Information:
Phone: (206) 543-9429
Office: 218B Smith
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Faculty Profile

My scholarship and teaching have focused on twentieth century U.S. cultural, intellectual, and social history. I have been particularly interested in the foundations and transformations of group identities. How do groups define themselves and how are they defined by others? How and why do those understandings and representations change over time and what have been the social, cultural, intellectual, and institutional sources of those transformations? I began my career as a social historian concerned primarily with the effects of large scale social and economic processes–migration, industrial wage work, labor organizing–on group identity. My first book, Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation (Cornell University Press, 1990), which won the American Historical Association’s Joan Kelly Memorial Prize for the best book in gender and women’s history, was an early model of transatlantic history. It examined the process of social, cultural, and political change upheavals that led to the mass migration of Eastern European Jews to the United States between 1880 and 1920, as well as looking at the impact of the Jewish immigrant generation on the American scene, and at the significance of gender, ethnicity, work, and unionism in the emerging identities of Eastern European Jewish immigrant women who labored in the early twentieth century garment industry.

Daughters of the Shtetl is primarily a work of social history. My subsequent scholarship reflects my growing engagement with cultural and intellectual history. My second book, Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism (Harvard University Press, 2000), analyzes the significance of late nineteenth and early twentieth century popular theater as a critical site of women’s enlarging cultural and social authority. I argue that the bold New Women of the popular theater demonstrated and encouraged new ways of acting female and became iconic progenitors of an emerging feminist consciousness. I also show that the popular stage was not without its paradoxes and contradictions. The fierce political agitation around women’s suffrage, the hardening of the color line, and the growing immigrant presence shaped the broader social context in which theater developed, and as did the growing hostility to women’s assertiveness off stage. An article drawn from this research, “‘Give an Imitation of Me’: Vaudeville Mimics and Play of the Self” (American Quarterly, 1998), won the American Studies Association’s Constance Rourke Prize.

More recently, I have focused my attention, both in research and teaching, on the period from the 1930s to the 1950s. My research has moved in two related directions. The first is an exploration of American responses to the rise of fascism in the 1930s and the impact of World War II and the Holocaust on American life. The second is an examination of the complex and contradictory practices of Jewish self-representation over the course of the twentieth century. My research on the “paradoxes of Jewish identity” examines the secular intellectual, cultural, and institutional practices through which Jews have attempted to define, maintain, or challenge prevailing ideas about who and what is “Jewish.” In “`Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish’: Visual Stereotypes and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity,” (in Glenn and Sokoloff, eds. Boundaries of Jewish Identity); “The Vogue of Jewish Self-Hatred in Post WWII America” (Jewish Social Studies, 12, Spring/Summer 2006); “In the Blood?: Consent, Descent, and the Ironies of Jewish Identity” (Jewish Social Studies, 8, Winter/Spring 2002) and other publications, I historicize these debates by placing competing discourses of Jewish identity in the context of larger national and international developments from the 1920s to the present. My co-edited volume of cross-disciplinary essays, Boundaries of Jewish Identity (University of Washington Press, 2010), explores past and present struggles to define Jewish identity in the U.S., Europe, and Israel.

My research has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Royalty Research Fund, and the Simpson Center for the Humanities. I have twice been appointed as Distinguished Lecturer by the Organization of Historians and served a three year term as the Howard and Frances Keller Endowed Professor in the Department of History at the UW. Since 2000, I have served as a member of the Academic Council of the American Jewish Historical Society.

I teach a range of undergraduate and graduate courses, including “War Stories,”; “Culture, Politics and Film in Twentieth Century America”; “The Jew as Other: Anti-Semitism in America”; and “The Holocaust and American Life.” At the Graduate level, I offer research seminars and field courses on Twentieth Century U.S. history and Comparative Gender. I have a strong interest in visual culture and regularly use films in my courses, and in recent years I co-organized two cross-disciplinary lecture/film series on campus: “Lives, History, and Memory: The Spanish Civil War, 70 years after,” and “Images in Crisis: the Politics of Visual Representation in the Twentieth Century and Beyond.”

Teaching specialties include courses on Jews and Blacks, antisemitism in America, and assimilation and identity in the U. S.