Women in the Academy: Joanna Brooks

By April 29, 2010

Joanna Brooks is chair and associate professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. Recently, Joanna co-organized the “Our Voices, Our Visions” Mormon women’s literary tour with Holly Welker and writes dynamic creative nonfiction in addition to publishing academically. She writes a regular column, “Ask Mormon Girl,” at Mormon Matters.


BA with Honors, English, BYU 1993
Ph.D., English, UCLA, 1999

What are your area (s) of expertise/specialization?

My fields of expertise include American Studies, American literature, religion, and race.  Most of my published scholarship focuses on American culture before 1800.

What are you currently studying, or what are some of your current projects?

I’m just finishing up a big anthology entitled Transatlantic Feminisms in the Age of Revolutions, which collects Anglophone protofeminist and feminist writings by women around the Atlantic world from the 17th through the early 19th centuries.  My next big project uses Anglo-American ballads about the migration from England to the Americas as a resource for developing new insights into why so many poor English folks–my ancestors included–made the trip to the Americas.  Our cherished “land of opportunity” narrative accounts only for the advertised attractions of North America. The conditions that pushed poor folks out including massive deforestation, environmental destruction, and social displacement are not yet a part of our story.

What has your experience been like as a woman in the academy?

While there are still a few nooks and crannies of the academy where old power networks rule, I have really loved being an academic and found the academy generally very hospitable.  Growing up, I had no role models of women who were able to work at a career they loved and raise a family except for teachers.  When I arrived at BYU and saw these incredibly vibrant, energetic women professors like Cecilia Farr, I saw myself for the first time.  I remember looking at Cecilia and thinking–okay, this is a career that will give me the independence I need, it will allow me to keep feeding my hunger for knowledge, and I will be able to get home and be with my kids after school and in the summer time. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been able to make a living among humane, knowledge-seeking people on a humane, family-compatible schedule.
In your field who are some women you admire? Why?

I admire women who have used their power to create new spaces and opportunities for others to tell their stories.  I admire great mentors and organizers who take risks in the service of a vision and have laid the foundations for their fields, like Richard Yarborough, one of my teachers at UCLA.  I think of women like the American Indian writer and scholar Paula Gunn Allen, one of my teachers at UCLA, who never lost her sense of humor, and my colleague Ann Cvetkovich at Texas who has never lost her kindness and generosity.  And since I am a department chair now, I increasingly look to the examples of women like Sidonie Smith at Michigan who have been intellectually alert, hopeful, and hardworking shapers of their institutions and the field.

For someone who is interested in studying what you do, what are some books you would recommend on the subject?
There are so many fine books in early American studies!  Women like Susan Scott Parrish at Michigan, Dana Nelson at Vanderbilt, Stephanie Smallwood at Washington, and Lisa Brooks at Harvard  are producing excellent work.  Especially in humanistic fields of inquiry, I think it’s incredibly important to read outside one’s subfield in order to develop some  perspective on one’s own little corner of the academic world.  I’ve gained a lot from reading books like Jacqui Alexander’s Pedagogies of Crossing, Ruth Gilmore’s Golden Gulag, and Andrea Smith’s Conquest.  These I recommend to anyone who wants to think seriously about human experience in America.
***Next week, look for a profile of Lisa Tait, who recently completed her PhD at the University of Huston, with a dissertation on Mormon Home Literature.***

Article filed under Miscellaneous Women in the Academy


  1. Joanna, your projects sound fascinating. This semester in my women’s studies class we talked briefly (in a discussion of Margaret Fuller) about Judith Sargent Murray and Mary Wollstonecraft writing around the same time. I assume they’ll be in your book on transatlantic feminisms in the Age of Revolution? You indicate that you’re staying in the Anglophone world. Does that mean Olympe de Gouges and Etta Lubina Johanna Palm d’Aelders won’t be included? I find it fascinating that each of these remarkable women are showing up in different European countries in the 1790s and have wondered how much they corresponded.

    Comment by David G. — April 29, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

  2. I agree with David that your project sounds fascinating. I am also interested in transatlantic intellectual history during the same period, so I have loved your work and am looking forward to what you do in the future.

    Comment by Ben — April 30, 2010 @ 3:51 am

  3. Hi David, Ben–Yes, actually, we are doing Olympe de Gouges in translation. We are finding a remarkable amount of intellectual exchange not only between English and French women–not so surprising–but also between English and indigenous American women. Some American indigenous societies were admired for their matricentrality or other traditions of woman-centered land ownership and leadership. J

    Comment by Joanna Brooks — April 30, 2010 @ 9:11 am

  4. More great stuff from this series. Thanks for your participation, Joanna, and thanks as always, Liz, for the series.

    Comment by Christopher — April 30, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  5. Very interesting, Joanna. Seems like I ran across a book last semester that discussed possible influences between the late-19th century woman’s movement and Native women, but it seemed a bit campy and not very scholarly. But you’re finding material earlier? Are you finding actual writings from indigenous women? I’m familiar with Sarah Winnemucca’s 1880s era autobiography, which is well known as the first autobiography written by a Native woman in the United States, but I don’t know much about earlier writings. I look forward to what you find.

    Comment by David G. — April 30, 2010 @ 10:57 am

  6. Check out a wonderful interview with Joanna on Mormonstories.org

    She is a perfect example of the the type of people we need to hear more from at church.

    Comment by Corn Duck — May 3, 2010 @ 1:07 pm


Recent Comments

Kiersten Olson on 2020 Mormon History Association: “I'm planning on submitting something about charismata in the late 19th/early 20th century and how it shifted from the first generation - the influence of…”

Rachel Helps on Digitized Publications Available from: “BYU also scanned the Exponent II and it's available on archive.org.”

Kent S Larsen II on Digitized Publications Available from: “It’s not just the Scandinavian, German and Dutch publications that are available. Almost all the foreign language publications in the Church History Library are available…”

Matt Harris on Digitized Publications Available from: “C. Terry & J. Stapley: Thanks for these outstanding posts!”

Gary Bergera on Digitized Publications Available from: “This is great and deserves wide circulation. (And J. Stapley's amazing.)”

C Terry on Digitized Publications Available from: “Thanks for all those helpful additions, J Stapley!”