Caroline Radesky, a UI Ph.D. candidate in the History Department with a Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies certificate, recently earned a prestigious American Association of University Women dissertation fellowship in July to complete her dissertation, “Feeling Historical: Same-Sex Desire and the Politics of History, 1880-1920.”
“I study queer history, and my dissertation looks at how, in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, queer folks who were dealing with this sexual identity were making sense of their world,” Radesky said.
The fellowship is funded by the American Association of University Women, a national organization that supports women in academia. It gave 250 fellowships to women throughout the country.
The $20,000 award helps offset the recipient’s educational and living expenses during her final year of working on her dissertation, which allows her to focus on finishing up the work and entering the job market. The fellowship is unique in that the application doesn’t just look at one’s academic achievements.
“It was like no other fellowship I had applied for before,” Radeksy said. “After college, I had been working as a rape counselor. So, they are very interested in people, not only who are doing work in academia, but they’re also interested that you have a component where you are trying to empower women or girls.”
Despite her current passion, Radesky wasn’t always on this path. When she started her undergraduate studies, she thought she would go into history and journalism. She changed her mind after taking a general education class about African American women writers. The class made her think about gender as something she could pursue academically.
Radesky’s research focuses on the experience of LGBTQ people in the late-19th to the early 20th centuries and how they looked at history to make sense of their identities and create a world in which they could survive and thrive. The research has others in her department excited, history Professor Elizabeth Heineman.
“For people who wonder how we got to where we are in terms of queer identity, Caroline’s research is key,” Heineman said. “She turns back the clock over 100 years to see how queer people at the time looked at history to develop their own identities and subcultures. The world they created then shaped the ways queerness continued to evolve — all the way to the present day. I can’t wait to read her work when it’s done.”
Radesky’s interest in LGBTQ issues goes well beyond her research.
“The Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Department is working with Iowa City schools to develop a teacher training program on LGBTQ issues. and Caroline is working on the history portion, so she’s involved with the community,” Gender Studies Department head Leslie Schwalm said.
Radesky has a great amount of academic talent, but she didn’t get this far on her own. She worked with mentors at the UI’s grad office of success to complete her fellowship application and continues to work with them on the dissertation itself.
Radesky said she’s spent the past year and a half going through archives, finding documents, and traveling a lot to complete her work. After everything was completed, she said, she’s simply happy to be honored.
“The application took a lot of time, but it was definitely worth it. I was just surprised at the end to be chosen; it’s very competitive, so I was very happy about it,” Radesky said.