• Christy Hyman

The Varied Dimensions of Mona Domosh's Feminist Geography


nineteenth century woman of Anglo-European descent.
Osa Johnson-The kind of woman explorer Domosh has written about.

The first wave of feminist geographical research foregrounded the spatiality of women’s lives. Later feminist geography investigated issues of equity within the geography discipline while also calling attention to the way geographical knowledge is conceptualized. These examinations gave way to analyzing how gender and other forms of social difference were interrelated (Hall, 1).


Of particular importance to the field of feminist geography is Mona Domosh’s body of work. Domosh’s contributions to feminist geography have explored gender ideologies and the cultural and material formation of American cities during the nineteenth century as well as explorations into how whiteness and gender influenced America’s global marketplace in the twentieth century. Domosh has also done work on how government interventions with African American farmers in the U.S. south served as an model for post-WWII international development (Domosh, M., & Ruwanpura, K. N,1).


This essay examines selections from Domosh’s work for thematic continuity of how gendered spaces of everyday life present itself in her work. Charting the progression of this groundbreaking historical geographer’s ideas over time helps the researcher arrive at an understanding of how the concerns of the discipline of geography as well as the cultural shifts outside of the academy influenced a scholar’s research trajectory.


Reading Mona Domosh’s early work provides a glimpse into the early publication history as well as the initial scholarly interventions made in her illustrious career as a historical geographer.


In “Imaging New York’s Skyscrapers,” Domosh reveals how late nineteenth century visual and verbal representations helped urban dwellers negotiate the towering structures that came to be known as skyscrapers. Domosh highlights how the aesthetic of the picturesque along built forms provided images of beauty and the sublime. This work helps the reader understand how an urban landscape and its perception allowed late nineteenth century society to make better sense of their immediate environs.


Domosh focuses on the urban elites and their cultural contexts of place in a comparison study of Boston and New York in “Shaping the Commercial City.” Here, Domosh examines how the retail districts in nineteenth-century NYC and Beantown reveal how elite classes in each locale structured the built environment. It is a convincing argument- New York with its flexible markets and revolving door array of up and coming venture capitalists guaranteed that NYC would become the epicenter of commercial profits while Boston with its more concentrated, insular old guard elites were more conservative and resigned themselves to being a regional hub for certain markets. Domosh reveals how the cultural values of elite classes influenced built forms in the two metropolises.


“Toward of Feminist Historiography…” differs drastically from the previously mentioned articles which seem to be explorations that stemmed from Domosh’s dissertation. The historiography piece is foregrounded by theoretical elements of postmodernist deconstruction. Domosh wants the reader to understand the importance of context and values laden in knowledge production despite promises of objectivity. Time, place, voice, gender loom large in what is constituted as scientific knowledge.


Domosh then describes how women explorers were not included in the annals of the geographic disciplinary history--that men, rather, were the ones who set out to “conquer,” “discover” and “penetrate” new lands and people. However Domosh argues convincingly that women explorers contributed much to geographic discipline history despite the field ignoring their work. Because these women did not survey, they were not considered serious explorers, although not every man surveyed on their expeditions yet were always considered serious explorers.


Domosh is careful not to paint these women as heroines of feminism; however, as their investments in imperialism, race pseudoscience, and access to wealth provided a hegemonic domain of their own.


Putting women in place : feminist geographers make sense of the world (2001) provides an accessible introduction to the interconnections between gender and space. In this text Domosh and Seager analyze categories of space, place and mobility as it relates to gender. Domosh draws on examples from the United States and the United Kingdom to highlight the continuum of access to space as it is enjoyed by men and women. Domosh also analyzes the components of domestic space and its influence as it evolved from the Victorian era to contemporary moments.


The book contains an important discussion on the spatiality of mobility pointing out the way socioeconomic class influences a person’s ability to move in the world. Domosh’s section on rootlessness and fixity is especially useful, allowing a nuanced discussion of the ways disadvantaged women maintain their home lives even while being denied the full range of mobility.


In Labor geographies in a time of early globalization(2008) Domosh highlights the particularity of place as it is connected to capitalist expansion. Examining corporate processes of the Singer Manufacturing company Domosh focuses her attention to a town north of Glasgow, Scotland and another in Russia. The two cases “bring to light how the embeddedness of transnational companies varies not only by place and across scale (local, regional, national), but also through time (in the cases examined here, the early 20th century)." This article reveals how labor organizations and workers’ resistance shaped the course of early global production, It thus highlights the “complexity of the relationships between labor and capital under conditions of early economic globalization.”


In International harvester, the U.S. south, and the makings of international development in the early 20th century (2015) Domosh shows how that International Harvester “was a participant in a dominant mode of geoeconomic imaginings in the early 20th century.”


Domosh uses findings from archival research of the company to illuminate its dominant discourse of “civilization”--as imagined in its new international markets as the inevitable extension of their national expansion. Domosh analyzes company postcards that feature “backward” farming methods-- the photos showing the backwardness of the American south in the early 20th farming enterprise are the ones where black farmers are featured. Captions read such descriptions as “the poor colored farmer of Alabama” and the like. Domosh uses these readings of the postcards to explore more deeply how International Harvester (IH) sought to market its products through using images that invoke a primitive understanding of the south. The scope of the article is not to probe the lives of Black Alabama farmers, however it would have been useful for Domosh to include a discussion on whether the farmers featured were sharecroppers are if they actually owned their own land. Land ownership in the American south for a black farmer was the highest form of social capital that a black family could have as it kept them out of the debt peonage of sharecropping. So even if the farmers featured on the postcards were using “backward” technology as IH points out, it was a far cry better than sharecropping for New South grandees.


Thinking about selected works from Domosh outlined here, it becomes clear that Domosh’s initial forays dealt with deconstructing Victorian Architecture, then on to more class based analysis of New England cities. From there the work becomes more feminist oriented, with deep analyses of gendered space. And her most recent works are critiques of global capitalism from historical investigation of American companies abroad.


What this shows is that Domosh is a scholar who continues to engage in the current scholarship and debates that dominate the field of geography. What is especially enlightening is that the studies that she undertaken are rooted in issues that continue to be compelling currents in society.


References

Domosh, M. (1987). Imagining new york's first skyscrapers, 1875-1910. Journal of Historical Geography, 13(3), 233–248. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0305-7488(87)80112-3

Domosh, M. (1990). Shaping the commercial city: retail districts in nineteenth-century New York and Boston. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 80(2), 268–284.

Domosh, M. (1991). Toward a feminist historiography of geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 16(1), 95–104.

Domosh, M. (1996). Invented cities : the creation of landscape in nineteenth-century New York & Boston. Yale University Press.

Domosh, M. (1998). Those "gorgeous incongruities": polite politics and public space on the streets of nineteenth-century new york city. Association of American Geographers. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 88(2), 209–226.

Domosh, M. (1999). Sexing feminist geography. Progress in Human Geography, 23(3), 429–436.

Domosh, M., & Seager, J. (2001). Putting women in place : feminist geographers make sense of the world. Guilford Press.

Domosh, M. (2004). Selling civilization: toward a cultural analysis of america's economic empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 29(4), 453–467.

Domosh, M. (2006). American commodities in an age of empire. Routledge.

Domosh, M. (2008). Labor geographies in a time of early globalization: strikes against singer in scotland and russia in the early 20th century. Geoforum, 39(5), 1676–1686. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2008.04.004

Domosh, M. (2015). International harvester, the u.s. south, and the makings of international development in the early 20th century. Political Geography, 49, 17–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2015.02.002



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