A Border Passage.pdf - Rethinking History Vol 13 No 1 March 2009 109\u2013123 Academic autobiography as women\u2019s history Jill Ker Conway\u2019s True North

A Border Passage.pdf - Rethinking History Vol 13 No 1 March...

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Academic autobiography as women’s history: Jill Ker Conway’s True North and Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage Rocı ´o G. Davis* Modern Languages Department, University of Navarra, Spain This essay reads Jill Conway and Leila Ahmed’s academic autobio- graphies, True North and A Border Passage , respectively, to examine the degrees to which autobiographical and professional writing complement each other. I focus on their autobiographies’ profound connection to their scholarly work, examining the former as a prolongation and deepening of the latter, and as a description of their work’s inception and evolution. Academics such as Conway and Ahmed particularize the dialectic between the position of being acted upon – influenced by the paradigms of the world in which they live– and acting through their professional work, changing discourse in specific ways. By producing self-narratives and theory on women’s history, they harness possibilities for agency both creatively and theoretically. Keywords: academic autobiography; history; Jill Ker Conway; Leila Ahmed; Islam; women’s education In the context of our increased awareness of how autobiography and history may be juxtaposed to offer new epistemological perspectives on the ways that academic disciplines develop, this essay reads Jill Ker Conway’s True North (1994) and Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage (1999), autobiographies by academics who have encouraged important re-examinations of vital issues in women’s studies, specifically the place of women in higher education and in Islam. Conway’s dissertation, her subsequent work on women in academia and, importantly, her role as the first female president of Smith College, establishes her authority in women’s studies. Ahmed’s work on orientalism and Muslim women also marks her as a key player in the debate on women of colour. Specifically, I want to focus on their autobiographies’ profound connection to their scholarly work, examining the former as a prolongation and deepening of the latter, and as a description of their work’s inception and evolution. Reading these academic *Email: [email protected] Rethinking History Vol. 13, No. 1, March 2009, 109–123 ISSN 1364-2529 print/ISSN 1470-1154 online Ó 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13642520802639702
autobiographies as performative acts in specific epistemological contexts unravels important discursive potential, as the selves enacted in the texts operate for public purposes, promoting an identity that nuances uncritical versions of intellectual and cultural history. This form of analysing autobiography, I posit, allows us to engage metaliterary issues as well as to consider the nature of historical and personal inscription. A number of women academics from history, sociology and literature have engaged with the relationship between their life experiences and professional choices: the social historian Vijay Agnew, in Where I Come From (2003), explains how her experiences as an Indian graduate student in Toronto in the 1970s led her to engage with the history of women in politics in India; Alice Kaplan’s French Lessons

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