Yajun Mo (Boston College)


Course Description
A global phenomenon emerging in the early 20th century, the Modern Girl could be spotted in cities from Shanghai to Bombay, Tokyo to Berlin, New York to Rome. She reflected and helped to create a new “modern” lifestyle in cities around the world. This course will examine how the Modern Girl became a symbol of modern urban life and explore how and in what ways modern women had participated in urban public life.

Through this gendered lens, we will discuss how urban modernity shaped social, economic, political, cultural changes globally. Students will be introduced to the critical significance of gender to urban history and globalization. Course materials (all available in pdf files) include introductory readings on broad themes, scholarly articles and book chapters, journalist writings, primary sources from the 20th century, visual and material artifacts, and films


Course Requirements and Evaluation
• Attendance and participation (20% of grade): Students are expected to keep up with course readings, attend each class, and actively participate in class discussions.
• Five short responses on readings (5% each, 25% of grade): Students are expected to write short discussion posts responding to readings.
• Two short papers (15 % each, 30% of grade): Students will write two 5-page paper on a given topic.
• Wikipedia project (25% of grade): Students will create or expand an article regarding a specific manifestation of the Modern Girl phenomenon on Wikipedia.


Learning Objectives
• Understand the interrelatedness of the histories of gender, urban modernity, and globalization in the early twentieth century.
• Apply theoretical frameworks of gender and women’s studies, urban history, and the history of globalization.
• Gain knowledge of the main themes in women and gender history, and urban history.
• Develop good reading, comprehension, and speaking skills in English to enable the effective communication of ideas.
• Demonstrate information and digital literacy.


Syllabus and Readings

Week 1: Introduction and Overview
Joan Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American Historical Review 91: 5 (December 1986): 1053-1075.
The Modern Girl Around the World Research Group, “The Modern Girl as Heuristic Device,” The Modern Girl Around the World (Duke University Press, 2008), 1-24.

Part I: Styling Urban Life

Week 2: Modern Life, Modern Girls
Mary Louise Roberts, “Making the Modern Girl French,” The Modern Girl Around the World, 77–95.
Tani Barlow, “Buying In: Advertising and the Sexy Modern Girl Icon in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s,” The Modern Girl Around the World, 288-316.

Week 3: Material Girls: Fashion, Entertainment, and Racial Modernity
The Modern Girl Around the World Research Group, “The Modern Girl Around the World: Cosmetics Advertising and the Politics of Race and Style,” The Modern Girl Around the World, 25–54.
Tyler Stovall, “Gender, Race, and Miscegenation: African Americans in Jazz Age Paris,” The Modern Woman Revisited, Paris Between the Wars (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 21-34.

Week 4: Working Girls
Hayashi Fumiko, “Horoki” (Diary of a Vagabond), excerpts.
Elise Tipton, “Pink Collar Work: The Café Waitress in Early Twentieth Century Japan,” Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context 7 (March 2002).
Anne Goresuch, “The Dance Class or the Working Class,” The Modern Girl Around the World, 174–193.

Part II: Staging Urban Space

Week 5: Women and the Visual Modernity of the City
Jina Kim, “Visual Modernity: Screening Women in Colonial Media,” Urban Modernity in Colonial Korea and Taiwan, 132-164.
Liz Conor, “‘Blackfella Missus Too Much Proud’: Techniques of Appearing, Femininity, and Race in Australian Modernity,” The Modern Girl Around the World, 220-239.

Week 6: Becoming Icons
Gigliola Gori, “A Glittering Icon of Fascist Femininity: Trebisonda ‘Ondina’ Valla,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 18:1 (2001), 173-195.
Priti Ramamurthy, “All-Consuming Nationalism: The Indian Modern Girl in the 1920s and 1930s,” The Modern Girl Around the World, 147-173.

Week 7: Policing the Modern Girl
Hazel Carby, “Policing the Black Woman’s Body in an Urban Context,” Critical Inquiry 18 (1992), 738-55.
Louise Edwards, “Policing the Modern Woman in Republican China,” Modern China 26: 2 (April, 2000), 115-147.

Part III: Shaping Urban Politics

Week 8: The Modern Girl as Modern Wives
Lola Landau, "The Companionate Marriage" (1929), in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook (University of California Press), 702-03.
Erica Windler, “Marriage, Manumission, and Morality in Turn-of-the-Century Rio de Janeiro,” Domestic Tensions, National Anxiety: Global Perspectives on Marriage, Crisis, and Nation (Oxford University Press), 37-48.

Week 9: The Modern Girl as Suffragists
Margaret Finnergan, “‘So Much Color and Dash’: Women Suffragists, Public Space, and Commercial Culture,” Selling Suffrage (Columbia University Press, 1999), 45-76.
Louise Edwards and Mina Boces, “Introduction: Orienting the Global Women’s Suffrage Movement,” Women’s Suffrage in Asia: Gender, Nationalism and Democracy (London: Routledge, 2004), 1-23.

Week 10: The Modern Girl as Proletariats
Ann Shelby Blum, “Cleaning the Revolutionary Household: Domestic Servants and Public Welfare in Mexico City, 1900-1935,” Journal of Women's History 15, 4 (2004): 67–90.
John M. Knight, “The ‘Modern Girl’ Is a Communist: March 8 and China’s Proletarian Women’s Movement, 1925–27,” positions: asia critique 28, 3 (2020): 517-546.

Week 11: The Modern Girl as Transnational Activists
Isabelle Richet, “Marion Cave Rosselli and the Transnational Women's Antifascist Networks,” Journal of Women's History 24, 3 (2012): 117–39.
Linda Etchart, “Demilitarizing the Global: Women’s Peace Movements and Transnational Networks,” The Oxford Handbook of Transnational Feminist Movements (Oxford Academic, 2015), 706-721.

Week 12: Conclusion and Presentations of Wikipedia Projects
Mary E. Hawkesworth, “Engendering Globalization,” Globalization and Feminist Activism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), 1-36.



Last updated: March 7, 2024


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