049: Jocelyn H. Olcott, 36

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of History at Duke University.
Assistant Professor, Department of History, Duke University, September 2002 —
Area of Research: The history of women’s activism and political change in post-revolutionary Mexico.
Education: Doctor of Philosophy, history, Yale University, 2000
Major Publications: Olcott is the author of Revolutionary Women in Postrevolutionary Mexico (Duke University Press, 2005), Jocelyn H. Olcott JPG and one of the editors of Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico, Jocelyn Olcott, Mary Kay Vaughan, and Gabriela Cano, eds. (Duke University Press, 2006). Olcott is currently working on a number of book projects; The Greatest Consciousness-Raising Event in History: Transnational Feminism and the 1975 International Women’s Year Conference; Sing What the People Sing: Concha Michel and the Cultural Politics of Mexican Maternalism; and Modern Love: Development Schemes and the Politics of Motherhood in Twentieth-Century Mexico
Awards: Olcott is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of History, Duke University, 2006-2007;
Center for the U.S. and the Cold War, New York University, Fall 2007;
Grierson-Bain Travel Grant, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, March 2006;
Duke University, Institute for Critical U.S. Studies Course Development Award, June 2005;
Center for Instructional Technology, Duke University Instructional Technology Innovation Grant, “Voices from the North Carolina Latino Community,” Grant co-author and participant, September 2004 — ;
Duke University Arts and Sciences Council Faculty Research Grant, July 2004;
Duke University Latino Studies Course Development Award, September 2002;
Donald D. Harrington Faculty Fellowship, University of Texas, Austin, September 2001— May 2002;
Junior/Senior/General Faculty Research Award, California State University, Fullerton, June — August 2001;
Mrs, Giles Whiting Dissertation Fellowship in the Humanities, October 1998—September 1999;
Fulbright-García Robles Grant, Fulbright-IIE, January—October 1998;
Henry Hart Rice Research Fellowship, Yale Center for International and Area Studies, January—August 1998;
International Pre-Dissertation Fellowship, Social Science Research Council, September 1995—August 1996;
Summer Research Grant, Yale Center for International and Area Studies, June—August 1995;
Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship, US Department of Education, September 1994—May 1995;
University Fellowship, Yale University, September 1993—May 1995 and September 1996—May 1998;

Additional Info:
Formerly an Assistant Professor, California State University, Fullerton, August 2000 — July 2002.

Personal Anecdote

I started college at a moment when Latin American Studies distinguished itself for its insistence on simultaneous engagement with both scholarship and politics. With its emphasis on Marxist paradigms, Latin American history centered on how power operates at the point of a gun or at the edge of poverty. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with scholars whose stature in the field I recognized only later: Miguel Centeno, Arcadio Díaz Quiñones, and, especially, the late Michael Jiménez. My luck held through graduate school, arriving during a brief window when both Gil Joseph and Emilia Viotti da Costa were training students. If there are shortcomings in my scholarship, I certainly can’t chalk it up to inadequately illustrious role models in my field!

I began research in Mexico as an undergraduate working on a senior thesis. In my own Pudd’nhead Wilson fashion, I stumbled on a trove of documents in the national archive: 1930s registrations of Women’s Leagues for Social Struggle. It was my first time in Mexico City, and I was unaccustomed to the ways that this revolutionary language and practice pervaded the political culture. I took photos of every march along the Calle 5 de Mayo and every hunger strike on the main plaza – I had never seen such intense political mobilization. I ended up writing about women in the Mexican textile and garment industries but remained fascinated by those women’s leagues and convinced they were clear evidence of authentic revolutionary consciousness.

After considering several other dissertation projects – every seminar seemed to raise compelling new research possibilities – I returned to studying these organizations as a window onto the gender politics of postrevolutionary Mexico. Mexico’s revisionist historiography had transformed my understanding of them; I now saw them as the imposition of a manipulative, consolidating regime. However, further research and reading pulled me toward what has emerged as a postrevisionist assessment: that the Mexican revolution did generate an atmosphere and a political infrastructure that, no matter how cynically motivated, allowed ordinary people to mobilize and make demands on the state in an unprecedented fashion. Using the language of revolutionary citizenship, women activists demanded radical transformations in their own labor conditions: the acquisition of mechanized corn mills; access to potable water; and the installation of schools, health clinics, and childcare facilities. While Mexican historiography has tended to concentrate on postrevolutionary land reform and labor legislation, it was the changes in the conditions of reproductive labor that revolutionized women’s lives.

My repeated readings, mis-readings, and re-readings of this evidence drove home the importance of cultivating relationships with Mexican scholars who could help me develop more informed understandings of the materials I encountered. After completing my PhD, I received generous support from Yale’s Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies to initiate what has developed into the International Network for the Study of Mexican Gender History. Since the initial conference in 2001, we have organized three more conferences – another in the U.S. and two in Mexico – published three edited volumes, and developed a truly international network of scholars working in this area. Dozens of scholars from Mexico, the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. have dedicated countless hours to this project, which now involves scholars from the undergraduate level to the most esteemed senior faculty. It has been incredibly exciting to experience a field exploding in the way Mexican gender studies has.

Quotes

By Jocelyn H. Olcott

  • “Observers on all sides of the [Mexican] “woman question” assumed that the encounter between “women” and “politics” would have Revolutionary Women in Postrevolutionary Mexico JPG some identifiable effect similar to two solid objects colliding. … Embedded within these deliberations lay the unspoken question of what these two categories – “women” (or, more often, the singular “woman”) and “politics” (also singular, la política) – meant in everyday practice. At a moment witnessing the international emergence of the “new woman” and the “modern girl,” along with welfare states and fascist-style corporatism, the definitions of women and of politics remained far less distinct, less solid, than contemporary observers implied. Interactions between women and politics more closely resembled a roughly choreographed dance than a collision. Most participants recognized certain moves; those less schooled in the political arts might misstep but still draw nearer to their objectives. Dancers changed partners and at times moved to entirely different rhythms.” — Jocelyn H. Olcott in “Revolutionary Women in Postrevolutionary Mexico”
  • About Jocelyn H. Olcott

  • “Jocelyn Olcott’s book combines impressive original research, lucid exposition, and keen insight. Three valuable case studies offer broad comparative analysis informed by telling details, examples, and anecdotes. Above all, the book successfully blends innovative women’s history with big, old, unresolved questions about popular mobilization, state-building, and the rise and fall of Cardenismo.” — Alan Knight, author of “The Mexican Revolution” reviewing “Revolutionary Women in Postrevolutionary Mexico”
  • “This book is extraordinarily important as a work of feminist political history. It’s a breathtakingly ambitious tour of Mexican women’s movements and feminist politics that will stand as a model for future histories of Latin American feminism and state formation.” — Heidi Tinsman, author of “Partners in Conflict: The Politics of Gender, Sexuality, and Labor in the Chilean Agrarian Reform, 1950–1973″ reviewing “Revolutionary Women in Postrevolutionary Mexico”
  • Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico JPG “This anthology touches on a wide range of themes: female colonels in the revolution, machismo applied with scissor snips in Mexico City, the cinematographic treatment of indigenous women, divorce in conservative circles, women’s education, the construction of new families, labor-union life, rationalized sex, activism among women in Catholic and rural organizations, and sexism in the Popular Front. Despite the variety, the book offers a complex, coherent panorama, energetically distancing itself from generalizations. It is well known that God, the devil, and attentive readers are in the details.” — Carlos Monsiváis, from the foreword of “Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico”
  • “This path-breaking book fundamentally changes our view of the Mexican Revolution as a man-made affair. The women who struggled against patriarchal authority as workers, teachers, feminist activists, soldiers, peasants, students, and mothers come alive in these pages—as do their adversaries. The chapters brilliantly mesh theoretical analysis with fine-grained historical accounts of gendered challenges to Mexico’s social order. This book’s importance reaches far beyond the Mexican case as it grapples with universal questions of authority, gender, and revolution.” — Elizabeth Dore, author of “Myths of Modernity: Peonage and Patriarchy in Nicaragua” reviewing “Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico”
  • “Excellent professor. Extremely intelligent. Accessible to students.”… “Wonderful professor – very interesting and easy to talk to. Gives great feedback on writing and is helpful with term papers. I would definitely recommend taking a class of hers.” — Anonymous Students
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