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Summer 2000

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Books

On Exhibit: Victorians and Their Museums
The Mixed Legacy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Institutional Ownership and Multinational Firms: Relationship to Social and Environmental Performance
Understanding Backwards
Voices in the Storm: Confederate Rhetoric, 1861-1865


On Exhibit: Victorians and Their Museums

by Barbara J. Black, Associate Professor of English
University Press of Virginia, 2000

Why did the Victorians collect with such a vengeance and exhibit in museums? Barbara Black, whose scholarly research focuses on the material culture of 19th-century London, poses this question in On Exhibit and uses cultural criticism, social history, and literary analysis to formulate her response.

The time frame of Black’s discussion begins with the 1837 house-museum of architect Sir John Soane and ends with the collection-filled study (2,000 pieces of ancient art) of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), and in between includes case studies of the Natural History Museum and South Kensington Museum. Black roots Victorian museum culture in key political events and cultural forces: British imperialism, exploration, and tourism; advances in science and changing attitudes about knowledge; the commitment to improved public taste through mass education; middle-class dominance and the resulting bourgeois fetishism and commodity culture; and the democratization of luxury engendered by the French and industrial revolutions. She concludes that, “the rise of museums cannot be separated from Victorian England’s industrial, commercial, and cultural power. An undisputed symptom of a healthy public sphere, museums marked nineteenth-century London’s ascent to the stature of a world city.”

In her review of On Exhibit, Nina Auerbach, the distinguished and prolific Victorian-literature scholar who gave Skidmore’s 1997 Adler Lecture, finds it “a treasure-house of information and shrewd ideological analysis about exhibiting and collecting. It is astonishingly learned but always a joy to read. I am particularly impressed by the skill with which Barbara Black weaves together social history and literary criticism, and I Iove the enthusiasm and eloquence with which she writes.”

The Mixed Legacy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

edited by Catherine J. Golden, Associate Professor of English, and Joanna Schneider Zangrando, Professor of American Studies
jacket design by Joosje Wethly Anderson ’58
University of Delaware Press, 2000

The fourteen essays in this collection were culled from the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Conference held at Skidmore in 1997, when scholars convened to share their research on the strengths and weaknesses of Gilman’s prodigious body of work. Early in the 20th century, Gilman herself had lectured at Skidmore, on its downtown campus.

During her lifetime Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) enjoyed a worldwide reputation as a writer, lecturer, and socialist, who through her writing advocated for gender equality and women’s equal participation with men in performing the world’s work. She saw family-work conflicts as human issues, not women’s issues, and some of her most visionary ideas—professional housecleaning services and community child care, for example—became realities. Virtually forgotten after her death, Gilman was rediscovered with the revival of the women’s movement in the 1960s and ’70s.

This volume focuses on Gilman’s mixed legacy: her vision for a humane, egalitarian world alongside her persistent presentation of class, ethnic, and racial stereotypes. Included in the collection are essays by Skidmore English professors Catherine Golden (“Caging the Beast: The Radical Treatment for ‘Excessive Maleness’ in Gilman’s Fiction”) and Charlotte Margolis Goodman (“Paper Mates: The Sisterhood of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Edith Summers Kelley”). The final essay imagines Gilman doing battle with the “self-anointed queen of the home” Martha Stewart and concludes with Gilman recalling an old saying: “The good part of working for social change is that at least you know you’ve got steady work.”

Institutional Ownership and Multinational Firms: Relationship to Social and Environmental Performance

by James J. Kennelly, Assistant Professor of Management and Business
Garland Publishing, 2000

This study represents an empirical test of the assertions of critics of multinational corporations (MNCs), who argue that social and environmental performance suffers as MNCs grow increasingly mobile and subject to the short-term financial demands of institutional investors. These critics argue that “footloose” and “stateless” MNCs have divorced themselves from responsibility to their home countries and have fallen under the sway of short-sighted investors.

Using multiple-regression analysis, James Kennelly considers the impact of multinationality and institutional ownership on the social and environmental performance of United States-based manufacturing companies. His findings indicate that the critics’ view of MNCs is not supported. Instead, the level of multinationality was positively associated with social and environmental performance in the home country. MNCs, Kennelly suggests, could play a useful role in building a global economy that is consistent with the values of sustainable development.

Understanding Backwards

by Beth Twiggar Goff ’35
Robert Hasbrouck Press, 1998

In this autobiographical work Beth Twigger Goff, an octogenarian and faithful diarist, provides insight into the life of a feisty young woman in the early decades of the 20th century. A fuller story of her life can be found in Harvard's Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, which has acquired 57 of Goff's diaries.

In Understanding Backwards Goff uses fictional names for most of the real people, the exceptions being her immediate family and Everett Stonequist, a member of the Skidmore College sociology faculty from 1930 to 1970.

As a child growing up in the village of Ossining on the banks of the Hudson River, Goff determines to be unlike her big sisters who are too busy growing up to take account of the past. She resolves to “remember when I grow up.” And she begins this book by recalling her first experience of night; she was three and the Twiggar home was on fire. “My grandmother is wearing her purple bathrobe and she sort of jumps around, talking. Mother wraps me in blanket and carries me downstairs . . . and puts me in the wheelbarrow—I’ve ridden in it before for fun.” As her sisters wheel her safely to a neighbor’s house—“at any other time they might have taken pleasure in dumping me out”—Beth absorbs her surroundings: “The maple trees stand huge and black against a glimmery sky. I am quiet, in awe.”

The jacket of Understanding Backwards describes the author as a “post flapper, BA and spontaneous feminist,” who over the years “married, mothered, marched, worked, wrote.” Two of Goff's short stories were published in the New Yorker, and in 1969 Beacon Press published her Where is Daddy?, a book written for young children of divorcing parents.

Voices in the Storm: Confederate Rhetoric, 1861-1865

by Karen E. Fritz ’87
Texas A & M University Press, 1999

Oratory played a fundamental role in the Civil War South, whose citizens encountered it almost daily at military functions, before battle, in church, or strolling on city streets. And because citizens frequently voiced their own comments during and after public speeches, Karen Fritz, assistant professor of history at Victoria College, includes audience behavior and response in this examination of how oratory shaped and reflected Confederate thought from 1861 through 1865.

Voices in the Storm also explores the nuances within Confederate speeches. In examining metaphor, argument, and figures of speech, Fritz’s research indicates that four years of bloody conflict caused Southerners to reconsider beliefs about their natural environment, their honor, their slaves, and their Northern opponents. By the end of the war, speakers were describing their nation in savage terms, applying to it expressions once reserved only for the North. Fritz observes that Southerners indeed listened as orators gradually shaped them and their nation into rhetorical facsimiles of their enemy. “This,” she writes, “suggests that separation at some level effected reunion.”

“More and more people are coming to see that the relentless cannonade of oratory, northern and southern, got the Civil War started and kept it going beyond its natural life. Voices in the Storm provides more than enough ammunition for that claim as it applies to the South,” noted one reviewer. Another found it a significant contribution to Civil War historiography as well as having appeal for the general reader.

 


© 2000 Skidmore College