Worcester State University Assistant Professor of History Erika Briesacher and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Robert Brooks

Shared Scholarship Presenters Focus on Obsessions with Identity

February 1, 2016
By: Kate Tattan

At first glance, both topics featured at the January 29 Shared Scholarship presentation seemed like polar opposites. Worcester State Assistant Professor of History Erika Briesacher shared her book in-the-making and project “Nordic Days: Festival, Culture, and Identity in Lübeck, 1920-1960,” and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Robert Brooks conducted a provocative talk titled, “’Little Monsters’ and ‘Little Snuggle Bunnies’: Constructing Gender Through Text and Image in Infant Clothing.”

But as the question-and-answer session began, it became apparent that both projects grappled with the idea of identity.

“Identifying who we are and where we all fit in” was the underlying reasoning for Lübeck’s almost obsession with the collection of money and tokens ordained in German iconography and nationalism in the form of festivals, Briesacher said.

Though Briesacher’s area of study throughout her education had been German history, her interests in German “diNazification during the midst of two wars” stems much more from the peculiar connection Lübeck, a city in northern Germany, had contrived between identity and money in its quest for Nordichism, an ideology that viewed Nordics as an endangered racial group.

The aim was to keep “people going in the absence of liquid money” and a time of severe nationalistic insecurity, she said. Lübeck, specifically, was on the cusp of several bordering countries (and cultures) and its residents were struggling to identify themselves.

Briesacher, through extensive research and several trips to Germany, tapped into this almost forgotten “era of collecting things” that “bridges the gap between pre-Nazi, post-Nazi, pre-war, and post-war.”

But Lübeck residents haven’t been the only group feeling pressure under weighty identities. In fact, Brooks placed his finger on a present-day silent identity crisis that’s been flying under our radar: parental and worldly projection of gender identity on children.

Genderisms and how we separate man from woman has shaped our lives for eternity, he said. Though gender differences have been molded and modernized, Brooks has found that the oppressive gender stereotyping through mass market and media has worked itself all the way down to infants.

“It’s beyond the surface of pink and blue,” said Brooks.

For many mothers, the identity of their child through clothes becomes their own, be it a projection of status or ideologies, he said. Besides images of trucks and fuzzy kitties on cotton onesies, even sleeve cuts, fabric weight, and color contrasts have been found to play a major role in gender identification of a baby.

Consequently, the child has lost its choice of self before it can even speak, he said.

The Shared Scholarship Series, hosted by Assistant Professor of History and Political Science Martin Fromm, Professor of Education Sue Foo, and Assistant Professor of Communication Dan Hunt, gives Worcester State faculty a forum to explore and celebrate their scholarly endeavors.

At the next Shared Scholarship presentation on March 4, Professor of English Sharon Yang and part-time English instructor Kathy Healy will discuss their co-edited collection of essays titled “Gothic Landscapes: Changing Eras, Changing Cultures, Changing Anxieties.”

At the session on April 15, Professor of Psychology Charlie Fox will address the question “Does University Experience Facilitate Ethical Thinking among Students?” and Professor of Philosophy Kristin Waters will present “Say Her Name: Maria W. Stewart and Black Women’s Intellectual Work.”

Kate Tattan ’16 is an English major. She also took the featured photo.

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