Messer-Davidow, Ellen 1941-

views updated



Born October 22, 1941, in Cincinnati, OH; daughter of Charles M. (a president of a construction company) and Shirley (Eichenbaum) Messer; children: Wendy Lynn Jaeger, Michael Charles Jaeger. Education: University of Cincinnati, B.A., 1964, M.A., 1972, Ph.D., 1984. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Fitness, travel, film, reading, politics.


Office—Department of English, 207 Lind Hall, University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN 55455. E-mail—[email protected].


University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, scholar-in-residence at Center for Women's Studies, 1984-85, adjunct instructor in English, 1985-86; University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, Minneapolis, assistant professor, 1986-91, associate professor, 1991-2002, professor of English, 2002—, McKnight-Land Grant Professor, 1989-92, adjunct member of women's studies, American studies, cultural studies, and comparative literature faculties, member of coordinating committee of Center for Advanced Feminist Studies, 1986-87. Guest speaker at other institutions, including Southern Methodist University, Hofstra University, Bemidji State University, North Carolina State University, University of Massachusetts—Amherst, University of Maryland—College Park, University of CaliforniaLos Angeles, University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins University, and Drew University; guest on media programs; conference organizer; consultant. Member of Ohio Governor's Committee on Educational Excellence, 1984-86; political fundraiser. Forecast (public arts organization), member of board of directors, 1993-94; affiliated with Women Helping Women (rape crisis center), 1982-83, and Citizens' League, Minneapolis, 1990-91.


Modern Language Association of America (founder of Commission on the Status of Women in the Profession, 1974-77; founder and coordinator of Graduate Student Caucus, 1975-76; member of delegate assembly, 1997-2002), American Studies Association, National Women's Studies Association, Teachers for a Democratic Culture, Women's Caucus for the Modern Languages (president, 1993), Group for Research into the Institutionalization and Professionalization of Knowledge, Midwest Modern Language Association.


Distinguished Alumna Award, Alumni Association and Center for Women's Studies of the University of Cincinnati, 1992; McKnight Research Award, Office of the Provost, University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, 2002-05; grant from Office of International Education.


(Editor, with Joan E. Hartman) Women in Print, Volume 1: Opportunities for Women's Studies Research in Language and Literature, Volume 2: Opportunities for Women's Studies Publication in Language and Literature, Modern Language Association of America (New York, NY), 1982.

(Editor, with Joan E. Hartman, and contributor) (En) Gendering Knowledge: Feminists in Academe, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN),1991.

(Editor, with David R. Shumway and David J. Sylvan) Knowledges: Historical and Critical Studies in Disciplinarity, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1993.

Disciplining Feminism: From Social Activism to Academic Discourse, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 2002.

Contributor to books, including The Road Retaken: Women Re-enter the Academy, edited by Irene Thompson and Audrey Roberts, Modern Language Association of America (New York, NY), 1985; Gender and Theory: Dialogues on Feminist Criticism, edited by Linda Kauffman, Basil Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1988; Language, Literature, and Politics, edited by Betty Jean Craige, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1988; The Politics of Research, edited by E. Ann Kaplan and George Levine, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1997; and Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History, edited by Mary Kupiec Cayton and Peter W. Williams, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001. Coeditor of the series "Knowledge: Disciplinarity and Beyond," University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA). Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Journal of Thought, New Literary History, Social Text, South Atlantic Quarterly, and Transformations. Social Epistemology, member of editorial board, 1990—, and coeditor of special issues, 1990, 1995; coeditor of special issues, Poetics Today, 1991, 1998; associate editor, Signs, 1992-94.


Research on academic knowledge production, on social movements and social change, and on public policy formation.


Ellen Messer-Davidow told CA: "As a professor of English at the University of Minnesota and an adjunct faculty member in American studies, cultural studies, and women's studies, I am not a typical literary studies scholar. Hired in 1986 with a mandate to do innovative cross-disciplinary research and teaching, I study the action that occurs within and between three arenas: higher education, social movements, and public policy. My focus is on social maintenance and change, and my favorite question is 'How does it work?'

"As a graduate student during the 1970s, I was puzzled by the cleavage between social activism and academic knowledge. The social change I knew from activism I could not reformulate as academic scholarship, and the social change I knew from academic scholarship I could not deploy in activism. Through activism I acquired practical knowhow by leaping, twisting, and landing on my feet in order to go with the flow of action; through academics I acquired esoteric knowledge by absorbing, analyzing, and synthesizing in long bouts of reflection. But I came to realize that these very different practices necessarily constituted 'change' as two divergent things. Tactical practices rendered change as conflicts to be shaped, whereas intellectual practices rendered it as schematics to be debated.

"My recent book, Disciplining Feminism: From Social Activism to Academic Discourse, bridges the activist/academic divide as it answers the question, 'How was academic feminism formed by the very institutions it originally set out to transform?'"



Chronicle of Higher Education, February, 2002, Scott McLemee, interview with Messer-Davidow, p. A17.

Focus, spring, 1988, "Dissolving Divisions: Teaching across the Disciplines," pp. 4-5.

Library Journal, December, 2001, Eleanor J. Bader, review of Disciplining Feminism: From Social Activism to Academic Discourse, p. 144.

Signs, winter, 1994, Paula Rothenberg, review of (En) Gendering Knowledge: Feminists in Academe, p. 559.

Women's Review of Books, October, 1992, Gayle Greene, review of (En)Gendering Knowledge, p. 25.

About this article

Messer-Davidow, Ellen 1941-

Updated About content Print Article