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Book Reviews: Manliness and Civilization

Manliness and Civilization—3 Reviewers

Kevin White– am a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, where I have worked since 2003. My major role is as Course Leader for the Access Course in Higher Education. I teach History, European Studies, American Studies, Sociology, and Study Skills on the course. I have previously taught at the University of Sussex and at the Ohio State University in the United States.   The First Sexual Revolution (NYU, 1993), a study of American youth culture in the early twentieth century “revolution in manners and morals”, and Sexual Liberation or Sexual Licence: The American Revolt Against Victorianism (Chicago: Ivan Dee, 2000). I have published numerous articles including, “The New Man and Early Twentieth Century Emotional Culture, “ in Peter Stearns and Jan Lewis ed., An Emotional History of the United States (NYU, 1998)–BA  History : Durham University, 1981.  PhD  History: The Ohio State University 1990.

Clyde Griffen, formerly Lucy Maynard Salmon Professor, taught American history at Vassar from 1957 to 1992. He earned his B.A. with Honors in History from the University of Iowa and his M.A. and Ph.D., under Richard Hofstadter, from Columbia University.  At Vassar, Professor Griffen’s teaching interests shifted in the 1960s and 70s to social and urban history, with courses titled “City, Town, and Countryside,” “The Making of an Industrial Society, 1877-1920,” and a departmental introductory course titled “The American Experience in the Twentieth Century.” He also began to participate in the early 1970s in the new multidisciplinary American Culture Program. Winning a year’s fellowship to a National Humanities Institute in New Haven, he developed the first version of a new syllabus focused on Individualism in America for the introductory seminar in that program.  Becoming interested through women’s history in gender, Professor Griffen co-edited Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America (University of Chicago Press, 1990).

Arnaldo Testi--Research Interests:  Nineteenth-century U.S. cultural history, U.S. Intellectual History, U.S. Progressive Era, U.S. Womens history, U.S. history.  Arnaldo Testi teaches American History at the University of Pisa, Italy. He is a former Fulbright student and ACLS grantee. His essay “The Gender of Reform Politics: Theodore Roosevelt and the Culture of Masculinity” (Journal of American History, 1995) won the inaugural Foreign-Language Article Prize, now David Thelen Prize, of the Organization of American Historians. His book Il secolo degli Stati Uniti (Il Mulino, 2008) was awarded the 2009 Best Book Prize by SISSCO, the Italian association of contemporary historians.


All three reviewers agree that Bederman makes a significant contribution to the history and understanding of the relationship of race and gender superiority.  They all assert that Bederman does an excellent job of showing how this relationship influences understandings of the term ‘civilization,’ the proper balance peak of superiority, and how all three of these terms change over the course of the 19th and 20th century to continually keep white men, middle and upper class white men in particular, as the epitome of ‘civilization.’  Bederman shows how members of different social groups, white men, white women, and blacks; manipulated the definition of civilization to suit their own means, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The same can be said for the terms race and gender.  All three reviewers agree that Theodore Roosevelt and G. Stanley Hall are excellent choices for a case study on ideal American manhood, but they all have problems with how Bederman uses and portrays the ideas of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Ida B. Wells.  Ida B. Wells used the lynching of black men by their ‘superiors’ to show that black men in fact had more civilization in them because they were not nearly as brutal as their white counterparts, but the reviewers take exception to Bederman’s use of Wells words as only lifting black men above whites instead of the entire black race.  Nearly the same thing has been said of Bederman’s use of Gilman’s work, except in term of lifting white women up and perpetuating racism.  With that said, most reviewers would have let that slide and praised this book even more if it were not for the last chapter in which many believe that Bederman over-simplified her arguments, and used poor sources to show that gender and racial superiority and inferiority were linked so closely.  Griffen says he was disappointed with Bederman’s oversimplification of such historically charged terms, while White chastises the last of her work for not understanding these middle class men were victims of their race and gender just as much as they were perpetuators of the system.

Gail Bederman– A.M. and Ph.D. from Brown University (1992).  Gender, women’s history, and the history of sexuality; gender studies; interdisciplinary studies of sexuality and morality.  Gail Bederman is an associate professor of history and of gender studies at the University of Notre Dame. An award-winning teacher, she specializes in the history of women, gender, and sexuality in the United States. Her current research centers on the earliest precursors of the English and American reproductive rights movement, from William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and T.R. Malthus through Fanny Wright and Madame Restell. She is the author of Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (1995).


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