Kerber, Linda Kaufman

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KERBER, Linda Kaufman

Born 23 January 1940, New York, New York

Daughter of Harry H. and Dorothy Haber Kaufman; married Richard Kerber, 1960; children: Ross, Justin

In April 1997, Linda Kerber's dazzling career was recognized by her election to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences for her seminal historical research on the place of women in American history. Then, in April 1999, Kerber became the first recipient of a new Radcliffe Award for Distinguished Academic Scholarship given by the Radcliffe College Board of Trustees. Radcliffe's award honored Kerber for her research in areas of women, gender, and society. For nearly three decades, historian Kerber has been teaching, by example, precisely the history she writes about. In her professional life as author of a number of important books on American history (an area of scholarship defined by men in every sense of the word until Kerber came along) and professor at a major research university, and in her personal life as wife to cardiologist Richard Kerber and mother to Ross and Justin, she has lived and competed in public and private worlds dominated by males.

Kerber has experienced firsthand the conflicts dominating the personal lives of every woman who wishes to have a productive and meaningful career as well as children to nurture. She has written with considerable skill about the dilemma of the Revolutionary woman juggling the world of intellect and the world of domesticity. She refers often to the language of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, which describes as "separate spheres" the areas of interest and responsibilities belonging to men and women. She employs eloquent and complex strategies to untangle this simple linguistic device that has served to subjugate women for centuries. In all her books and essays, she makes one point repeatedly and definitely: "One day we will understand the idea of separate spheres as primarily a trope, employed by people in the past to characterize power relations for which they had no other words and that they could not acknowledge because they could not name, and by historians in our own times as they groped for a device that might dispel the confusion of anecdote and impose narrative and analytical order on the anarchy of inherited evidence, the better to comprehend the world in which we live."

In 1985 Kerber was named May Brodbeck Professor in Liberal Arts at the University of Iowa. She has been on the faculty of the history department at Iowa since 1971. Her academic background includes Barnard College, where she earned a B.A. (1960), New York University, where she took an M.A. (1961), and Columbia University, where she earned a Ph.D. (1968). Her teaching posts before Iowa were at Stern College for Women, San Jose State College, and Stanford University. She has successfully integrated a teaching and scholarly career of great distinction with a long, happy marriage and two wonderful sons.

In Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (now in its third edition since 1980), Kerber has presided over a reassessment of American history that has been described as "radical re-thinking." Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, this book looks at the American Revolution through the eyes of women. Kerber describes women's history in America as the effort to gain for themselves what the Revolution did not accomplish. If most people would agree history describes human nature and events, it seems abundantly clear that history should include the experience of women along with that of men. Yet, for a very long time, it didn't. Kerber argues that women's history is American history. She has been a central figure in establishing the disciplines we understand today as feminism and women's studies. What seems obvious to us now at the end of the 20th century—that the language spoken by women reflects the economic and social realities experienced by women—is comparatively recent as an understood phenomenon. Kerber's essays in Toward an Intellectual History of Women (1997) were published together as one volume but written over more than two decades. These essays have not simply redirected the history of women in America but revised it. Gender is no longer a term of exclusion. She has addressed this issue directly in U.S. History AS Women's History: New Feminist Essays (1995, a collection edited with Alice Kessler-Harris and Kathryn Sklar), which examines specific historical events from a feminist perspective. In an essay "The Obligations of Citizenship," Kerber writes, "Skepticism of the state, however, has never been and should not be limited by gender; if public life is to be an arena of human freedom, men and women will have to find ways to make it so." She maintains that obligation is not duty, not a social contract, more than a political order or law: it is a fundamental right; it is a fundamental right of women. Her arguments about obligation have evolved recently into a much longer work, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (1998). The central drama of women's rights becomes their absolution from public service and corresponding obligation to family life. Democracy, equality, citizenship, responsibility, loyalty coalesce into a historiography out of which women's history, in particular, can be understood and explained.

Other Works:

Federalists in Dissent: Imagery and Ideology in Jeffersonian America (1970).


Reference works:

Rethinking Political History (1996).

Other references:

Iowa City Press-Citizen (8 Apr. 1999). Journal of American History (June 1988). University of Iowa Literature, Science and the Arts Culture Diversity and Identity Seminar (1997).