On Wednesday afternoon, two recently published professors celebrated the release of their new books with faculty and students. Both books focus on written representations and cultural views of women in specific historical contexts.

Associate Professor of German Jill Smith has written “Berlin Coquette: Prostitution and the New German Woman,” and Assistant Professor of Romance Languages Margaret Boyle recently published “Unruly Women: Performance, Penitence, and Punishment in Early Modern Spain.” Both books have been on shelves for several months.

“Berlin Coquette” focuses on the prostitution industry in the growing city of Berlin between 1890 and 1930 while examining the concept of the New Woman, a feminist ideal originating in the 19th century that promoted education, independence and autonomy for women.

“My real question is what is the relationship between how prostitutes were represented and how New Women were represented,” Smith said. “And if they wind up getting intertwined, does that necessarily mean that it’s a bad thing for both parties—especially New Women.”

Smith was building on previous work in her field, which criticized any material that compared prostitutes and New Women on the ground of misogyny without further exploring the cultural context or the relationship between the two historical character types.    

“It was a really long trajectory to get to this book,” she said. “I was inspired in graduate school by this question of how prostitutes get represented in German-language literature.”

After graduating from Amherst, Smith received her PhD in Germanic Studies from Indiana University, where research leading up to her dissertation became more focused on Berlin. While writing “Berlin Coquette,” however, Smith was able to expand on her previous work.
“I really had a chance to delve into a lot of archival research, and to look at a broader cross-section of texts, broadly construed, when I was working on the text,” Smith said.

Research that eventually ended up in “Berlin Coquette” was featured in a first-year seminar Smith offered in the fall of 2012: From Flowers of Evil to Pretty Woman: Prostitutes in Modern Western Europe. Smith said the course was very gratifying to teach, and she tries to integrate as much of her work into classes at Bowdoin as possible.

Professor Boyle’s book, “Unruly Women,” also inquires into the historical standing of women and potential contradictions in how women are represented by society. The setting for her book is early modern Spain.

“I became hooked on early modern Spanish literature during my time as an undergraduate at Reed College, where the close-knit and engaging seminar classes allowed me to deeply explore the period’s culture and its theater,” said Boyle in an interview to the University of Toronto Press. “My engagement as a feminist scholar was prompted by my first encounters with representations of women, and violence against women, in early modern Spanish texts.”

 “Unruly Women” explores the relationship between public theater, custodial institutions and women, specifically focusing on representations of deviance and rehabilitation both on and off stage  in early modern Spanish culture.

Despite the years of work involved with writing and publishing a book, both Boyle and Smith love the process of academic scholarship.

“I love archival research. It can be tedious to leaf through 16th and 17th century manuscripts,” said Boyle in an email to the Orient. “But it’s the closest physical contact I have with the true materiality of my period, knowing that the people I study hand-wrote or owned the letters, records and books I study.”

Smith said the most difficult part was transitioning from research to writing on the blank page, something many students might empathize with.

“It’s so fun to gather and take notes and read for hours on end,” said Smith. “But once I’m in it, I love the writing process.”

Coming from liberal arts backgrounds, Smith and Boyle both value the emphasis on writing and personalized learning opportunities at schools like Bowdoin.

“The small liberal arts college fosters this cross-disciplinary inquiry. It was automatically clear to me that I wanted history to be a part of this book. I wanted art history to be part. It’s grounded in German but it’s also an urban studies, gender studies, film studies [book],” Smith said. “It’s a very interdisciplinary book.”

Smith and Boyle encourage Bowdoin students to use a variety  of disciplinary lenses to their advantage when venturing into research, dissertations and possibly books of their own.

“Find a subject that you’re really passionate about and a community of peers and mentors that can support and invigorate your research and writing process,” Boyle said.