The Past as Present
Laura Prieto Ph.D., Associate Professor, History and Women's Studies
Prieto looks to the past to understand current themes such as gender and consumer culture, women and education, and women's wartime roles.
The daughter of immigrants from Argentina and Cuba, Associate Professor of History and Women's Studies Laura Prieto grew up listening to the tales of her parents' "early days." "The past was always a part of my present," she says. "My parents placed great emphasis on their past and spoke about it often."
As a result, Prieto developed a healthy respect for history and how it shapes the present. After she graduated from Wellesley College with a B.A. in French, she eventually went on to obtain her Ph.D. in history from Brown University. She's been teaching at Simmons since 1997.
"The graduate seminars I teach are continually changing. We examine themes such as gender and consumer culture, women and education, and women's wartime roles. In support of these topics, I bring in archival documents that I find from my research."
Prieto says seminar topics are often generated from her research and vice versa. "I don't think of teaching and research as separate. I research to learn and to engage myself with new ideas. I write as a way of teaching the material. Oftentimes, discussions in the classroom lead to research — my own or that of a student!"
In 2001, Prieto's first book was published by Harvard University Press. At Home in the Studio: The Professionalization of Women Artists in America examines the emergence of a professional identity for American women artists, from the late 18th century through the 1930s. "In tracking their transformation into middle-class professional artists, I became intrigued by what historical factors may have contributed to this evolution," she says. Prieto is currently incorporating visual culture, from sculpture to advertisements, in her new project, "Feminine Imperialism: The War of 1898 and the Making of the New Woman."
"Increasingly, we are seeing more international perspectives in women's studies and history. No longer is it acceptable to offer a single nationalistic view; we are witnessing a trend toward more broad transnational analysis." Prieto thinks Simmons conducive to this kind of analysis. "Simmons offers the many resources of an urban setting, while maintaining the personal atmosphere found at smaller colleges. In addition, its size and faculty emphasize interdisciplinarity; as teachers and scholars, we're crossing borders all the time."