Campus News

Harvard Professor's Talk: 'Marriage on Trial'

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 30, 2010) − A pioneer of women's history and feminist scholar will discuss the state's involvement in the constructs of love this week at the University of Kentucky.

Nancy Cott, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History and Director of the Schlesinger Library and Charles Warren Center at Harvard University, will present, "Marriage on Trial," a talk based on her renowned book, "Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation" at 4 p.m. on Dec. 2 in the President's Room of the Singletary Center for the Arts.

Cott's talk, part of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies 2010-2011 Speaker Series on "States of Love," will explore some of the legal questions surrounding same sex marriage that the California's Proposition 8 case raised, according to Patricia Cooper, Chair of UK's Department of Gender and Women's Studies.

Cott was asked to testify at the Proposition 8 Trial in California in early 2010. Proposition 8 is a California state law outlawing same-sex marriage.

In August, a U.S. District Court found that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, but the battle has continued; the 9th Circuit of Appeals issued a "stay" until the case could be heard at the appellate level, and the Appeals Court will hear the case soon.

"Cott was asked to testify because 'Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation' was a path breaking study that uncovered massive evidence about the ways marriage has been regulated by government to achieve particular ends, making it very much a humanly constructed institution with all of the flaws and messiness that always involves," explained Cooper. "It is very special to have her here at UK."

While Cott has received noticed for her expert testimony, she is best known for her early forays into the subject of U.S. women’s history, and her books are classics in the field. "'The Bonds of Womanhood: 'Woman's Sphere' in New England, 1780-1835' and 'The Grounding of American Feminism' truly made her reputation as an outstanding historian," said Cooper. "She is a founding mother of U.S. women’s history and she has been not only a prolific scholar, but also a great mentor to several generations of women historians and historians of women."

Cott’s books, in addition to "Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation" (Harvard University Press, 2000), include "The Bonds of Womanhood: 'Woman’s Sphere' in New England, 1780–1835 (Yale University Press, 1977); "The Grounding of Modern Feminism" (Yale University Press, 1987); and "A Woman Making History: Mary Ritter Beard Through Her Letters" (Yale University Press, 199l.

Cott's articles have appeared in The American Historical Review, American Quarterly, Feminist Studies, Journal of American History, Journal of Social History, William and Mary Quarterly, The Yale Review and Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society.

"She has done so much to bring women’s lives and experiences to public awareness," Cooper said. "To have such an esteemed scholar here is, of course, a great honor for the Gender and Women’s Studies Department. We are also so grateful to the College of Arts and Sciences and the Departments of History and of Anthropology for helping us make her visit possible."

Cott arrived at Harvard in 2002. Between 1975 and 2001, Cott taught at Yale University, beginning as an assistant professor and departing as the Sterling Professor of History and American Studies. At Yale, she was among the founders of the women’s studies program in the late 1970s and chaired that program from 1980 to 1987.

"I am so thrilled to have her here," said Cooper. "And with 'States of Love' as our theme this year, we are collectively thinking about how the state, i.e. government, intervenes in the seemingly private world of love."

Cott's talk, co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as the Departments of Anthropology and History, is free and open to the public with a reception to follow.

For more information, please contact Cooper at (859) 257-6856 or