History in the Attic Project

Purpose: The purpose of this activity is to demonstrate your knowledge of research on gender identity, gender stereotypes, gender roles, and the cultural and historical influences that set standards and ways of relating over decades of time.

Guidelines: In this activity, you are going back in time several generations, imagining and creating fictional artifacts to represent a diverse set of memories, cultural and historical attitudes, and reflections on personal experience.

  • culture and history: describe cultural and historical influences on conceptions of gender and other forms of diversity
  • gender differences: discuss research findings on gender differences and similarities in aggression, achievement, and communication
  • relationships: identify gender issues in friendships and romantic relationships
  • gender expectations: explain the impact of gender, gender role expectations, and gender stereotypes on work roles and physical and mental health

Imagine that you have just moved into a very old house with an attic that does not seem to have been entered for many decades. As you explore the attic, you find antiques from before your grandparents’ time. You open a trunk and discover inside it three carefully bound stacks of hand-written papers. Reading through them, you discover that the first stack is a series of letters between two friends who held a lifelong connection, spanning 80 years.

The second stack is a set of letters reflecting six decades of social change in gender expectations. Written by a diverse group of people, the letters give insight into the growth of a young man and woman who began as childhood friends, became lovers and parents, and eventually became elders with great-grandchildren of their own (the man and woman are not necessarily married to each other). The letters contain incidents that indicate how history and family life can affect our perspectives on gender identity, rules for relating, and career and child-rearing responsibilities. The letters are written by parents, friends, and the man and woman themselves as they journey from childhood to their elder years. History, culture, family expectations, and personal choices are reflected in the letters.

The third stack of papers in the trunk is a bound personal diary, written with detailed reflections on the experiences and perceptions of men and women. The diary is written by someone who was personally reflective, was aware of social and political changes for men and women, and was involved in some of the events of change.

Task: Write four to six letters from each of the two sets of letters—from the stack about the friendship spanning 80 years and from the stack about the man and the woman. As you write the letters, make sure you represent an array of events over decades, include real events such as war, political and economic shifts, and social changes, and consider the influence of media and literature on gender identity. Events should be personally relevant and have an influence on the characters.

In addition, write six short passages from the diary that show the day-to-day life of the author. Include historic events, social encounters, family discussions, private thoughts, and reasonably deep reflections on how the diary’s author feels about his or her situation in a way that is relevant to gender. Space your letters and diary entries over many years to show how world events, culture, friendships, marital status, and social change combine to impact the authors.

Peer review articles and module resources: Locate journal articles relevant to the issues raised by the authors of the letters and the diary. In writing the letters and the diary entries, select events to weave into your writing. For example, your letter or diary may reflect upon marching with suffragettes for the vote, tell about women’s experiences in factories during World War II, or give a father’s perspective on parenting that differs from the perspectives of his father and grandfather.

Use the resources in your course modules and text to locate quotations relevant to the social and cultural changes that influenced the lives of the authors of these letters and diary. You should have four articles and six quotations relevant to the events and changes illustrated in the letters and the diary.